Dr Bernadette Carr answers your questions on food poisoning and sciatica

Dr Bernadette Carr gives advice on how to avoid getting food poisoning while on holiday and explains how to recognise sciatic pain.

Q. I am going on holidays in three weeks and am wondering what I can do to prevent food poisoning. Last year I had a three-day bout of vomiting and diarrhoea which almost ruined my entire holiday.

A. Food poisoning and gastroenteritis can be very distressing and unpleasant. In many cases it may be self-limiting, however, some serious cases may result in hospitalisation due to dehydration.

A number of bugs may be responsible for diarrhoeal illness in travellers. 

Common offenders include e.coli and salmonella (bacterium pictured right) which can be contracted from contaminated meat, especially chicken and undercooked mince. 

Eggs, unwashed fruit and vegetables can also carry bacteria so an important rule of thumb is to always order meat well-done with no pink.

Avoiding salads or unwashed raw fruit and vegetables will help prevent bacteria, which may be present in water supplies, from entering your system. 

Avoiding ice in drinks and using bottled water only should be attempted for the same reason.

Shellfish may harbour a lot of bacteria and toxins as well. Mussels and oysters are particular “at risk” foods as they filter large amounts of water which may be contaminated and which will infect the shellfish itself.

If you are unfortunate enough to get gastroenteritis on your holiday, hydration is essential, particularly in hot climates. 

Oral rehydration salts can be a useful adjunct to plain bottled water to replenish lost electrolytes.

Most cases resolve in 24-48 hours. In very severe instances, fever and bloody diarrhoea may occur. 

You should seek medical attention if this happens or if symptoms persist.

Q. For the past two weeks, I’ve had a pain that runs from my right buttock down my leg to my foot. Is this sciatica?

A. The sciatic nerve goes from the pelvis, through the buttocks and down the legs to the feet and sciatica is caused by irritation or compression of the nerve. 

Sciatic pain starts in the back and travels down the leg below the knee.

Typically sciatica is exacerbated by coughing, straining, sneezing or laughing. Incidence varies from 13 to 40%. 

The duration and severity of the pain varies. 

The most common reason for sciatica is a slipped disc; it could also be caused by an infection or injury.

In most cases the pain will resolve itself. As you have had this pain for a couple of weeks it is important to have a diagnosis and to have the cause of it identified and I would advise making an appointment with your GP.

While you are waiting for your appointment here are some general suggestions to consider:

* Painkillers — over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) will relieve pain.

* Keep active — exercise is good for preventing and reducing back pain, particularly walking or swimming. There are specific exercises that strengthen the back muscles and your GP can provide advice.

* Rest when needed.

* Posture — posture is important so stand straight with head facing forward, legs straight and your weight balanced evenly on both feet.

* Sitting — as important as standing correctly. You hips and knees should be level and your feet on the floor. If you work at a desk both desk and chair should be the right height. Try to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

* Lifting — if lifting is part of you job make sure that you are using the correct manual handling techniques.

* Weight — maintaining a healthy weight is important.

* Stress — muscles tense when we are stressed so recognise the signs and learn to manage it.

Your GP can examine you and make a diagnosis and advise on the appropriate management.


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