29 03 2010

Ok, ok, I’m starting to become obsessed! Just wanted to use the current discussions (/fiasco)on t’internet as a platform for telling you about syphilis.

As a med student, syphilis is one of those ‘go to’ conditions. It literally seems to cause everything! It is refered to amongst doctors as one of the “Great imitators” – a disease that can trick health professionals into thinking they are something else. But what actually is it?

Well, it’s part of a groovy subgroup of bacteria [edit:just for dom] called spirocaetes, that is mostly passed on through sexual contact. Wikipedia amusingly notes  that syphilis “had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. In addition, the Dutch called it the “Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “Polish disease”, the Turks called it the “Christian disease” or “Frank disease” (frengi) and the Tahitians called it the “British disease”.” Doesn’t that make you proud, fellow Brits?!

So what does it do to you?

Well the first stage (primary syphilis) is probably what you’d think of as being syphilis. Painless lesions develop, which ulcerate to form ‘syphilitic chancres’, which normally heal after a few weeks. They are highly infectious sores that normally appear around genitals.

Secondary symptoms, such as a fever, skin rash and sore throat, then develop, despite the body already having mounted an immune response to the disease! 

Tertiary syphilis. At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body. It affects many tissues of the body, such as the bone, skin and mucosal surfaces, and can go on to affect important body systems like nerves and the heart.

But for such a potentially destructive disease, treatment couldn’t be more straight forward. Penicillin. An antibiotic we’ve known about for the best part of 100 years.

Syphilis is still in relatively small numbers in the UK, although the recent news reports suggest that this may be changing. Still, if you’re worried that you might have this, or any other sexually transmitted disease (STD), please got to your local GUM clinic, or have a chat to your doctor. Remember that some STDs may not have any symptoms.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Many diseases can be tested for with simple, painless tests, and treated effectively.

J x


Palm Reading; Part 1

8 10 2009

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but there is no doubt that the hands are the windows to health.

When I was a teenager, naively contemplating career paths, I spent some time ‘shadowing’ (read – “getting in the way of”) my mum, who was working at a GP surgery (Family Practice for my American readers) at the time. I vividly remember the fascination I felt watching her perform a kind of voodoo witchcraft. Every patient, seemingly regardless of complaint or condition, had teir hands examined. Watching my mother pouring over these confused individuals’ palms and nails, I couldn’t help but feel she was simply giving a mystical palm reading.

Now (as every good medical student soon learns), I understand that hands hold a multitude of clues about an individual’s health. In fact, it become so ingrained as one of the first steps of the routine examination, that you almost ‘palm read’ as a reflex. The hands can tell you about the heart, lungs, joints, blood, liver, skin, and almost every organ in between. There are markings that would indicate a potentially fatal infection of the heart, that could allow you to consider alcoholic liver disease, or tell you that their blood isn’t properly oxygenated. And there is certainly nothing esoteric about  noticing tar staining from cigarette smoking, and extrapolating that they might have any of the hundreds of conditions caused by smoking!

Whether palm readers use some of the signs doctors do to predict life and health in an individual is anyone’s guess, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me!

Until next time,