From thick saliva to Alzheimer’s fears – Dr Zoe Williams answers your health questions

IF you talk to a family doctor, they will sometimes ask you about your family’s medical history.

I promise we’re not just curious.

dr Zoe Williams answers questions from readers


dr Zoe Williams answers questions from readers

It is important that we know something about your close relatives – especially your parents, siblings and grandparents – so that we can assess your risk of developing certain diseases.

These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers — including breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer — and problems like high blood pressure and cholesterol.

If you have the opportunity, talk to your parents and ask about their health.

Good topics include the age of menopause, any problems in pregnancy or childbirth, and any history of breast, testicular, or prostate cancer, or any mental health issues.

Meanwhile, here’s what readers asked me this week.

Q: My mother, grandfather and grandfather all had Alzheimer’s. How likely am I to get it?

A: This is a really important question that I get asked about many conditions, from dementia to cancer.

It’s perfectly natural to worry that you might end up having the same illness as a parent or grandparent, especially if you were closely involved in their care.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, but there are other causes, including vascular dementia (the second most common type), and together they account for more than 80 percent of all dementia cases.

Neither Alzheimer’s nor vascular dementia are typically classified as hereditary, meaning they aren’t passed directly from parent to child via faulty genes — but there are a few exceptions, which I’ll explain.

Our individual risk is a combination of our overall genetic makeup and the environment in which we live. As well as genes, lifestyle habits and habits are often passed on too – which can make certain diseases more likely to run in families.

The good news is that we can change our lifestyle and habits, and there are many things we can all do to significantly reduce our risk. Vascular dementia shares the same risk factors as heart disease, so while family history is a factor, a healthy lifestyle is more important.

Avoid smoking, aim for a healthy diet, be active, manage stress and make sure high blood pressure or diabetes are well managed.

Reducing Alzheimer’s risk through lifestyle is all of the above, plus keeping the brain active and socializing.

Age is the biggest factor when it comes to Alzheimer’s since your risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65, so I’m wondering how old your mother and grandparents were when she was diagnosed became?

There are some rare types of dementia that are more likely to run in families.

Frontotemporal dementia is a rare type that causes problems with behavior and language. About 40 percent of people diagnosed with it have a family history.

Early or young onset dementia — when a person is diagnosed with dementia before they turn 60 — is more likely to be due to a gene. So if your mother or grandparents were diagnosed young, it’s worth speaking to your GP.

Huntington’s disease and familial prion disease are very rare diseases that also cause dementia. Both have a genetic link, with a 50/50 chance of being passed from child to parent.

You would already have been counseled if a parent had been diagnosed with one of these conditions. All in all, most cases are not inherited. In fact, less than one in 100 cases of Alzheimer’s is genetic, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

So you are unlikely to end up with it, especially if you lead a healthy lifestyle.

Q: MY teenage daughter feels really withdrawn from me. I don’t know how to get her to open up and I’m concerned about her stress levels and mental health with mock GCSE exams due.

A: It’s a really difficult time to be of GCSE age right now – 15 or 16. These young people were 12 or 13 when the pandemic started and we’re seeing a lot of young people dealing with the aftermath of that .

The high school diploma also feels like a difficult time because it is a stepping stone for the next stage of life, so whether it is training or high school, it is not without consequences. However, there are things you can do.

Does your daughter have an active social life? If she’s withdrawing from you, that’s one thing, but if she’s withdrawing from many things, it could be a symptom of anxiety or another mental illness.

If she’s still going out and hanging out with friends or doing the things she’s always done for fun, there may be less to worry about.

Does she eat and sleep irregularly? If she stays up late, sleeps late, and doesn’t eat, and it’s a sudden change, then again, that could be a cause for concern.

She’s of an age where parents’ evenings are still held, so you have every right to check with her teachers if they’ve noticed any changes in her behavior.

The wording of your question suggests that you have tried to get them to open up, but children and young people often do not want formal, seated conversations.

Suggest a walk, car ride, or shopping spree and see if she opens up when she’s distracted by something else—often teenage feelings can seem too big to express, so a distraction can help. If she doesn’t answer right away, be patient, let her know it’s an open door and she can come to you anytime.

When she talks, try to help her rephrase the things she’s worried about. Is it about exam matters? If so, how can you help with a review schedule or are there extra classes at school that she can attend?

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After all – and we only realize this as we get older – if the worst happens and she doesn’t get the grades she wants, it’s not the end of the world. There are so many ways to get where we want to be.

  • Do you have a question for Dr. Zoe? Email her at

Saliva is weird post Covid

Q: I HAD Covid last year but have had a problem with my saliva ever since. I’ve been to my GP and she diagnosed a nasal drip and referred me to an ENT clinic and I’m waiting for an appointment but I don’t think she made the right diagnosis.

My saliva is bubbly and thick, like mucus. I visited my dentist and mentioned it and he said he knew another patient with a similar post Covid problem.

My mother had esophageal cancer. I seek advice, help and validation.

A: There are a number of things that can alter saliva viscosity and it has been noted as a symptom during and after infection with Covid.

While esophageal cancer can cause salivary changes, it’s more of a symptom of advanced disease, and you’d almost certainly experience things like difficulty swallowing much sooner.

Some other causes include medication side effects, dehydration, salivary gland stones, Sjorgen syndrome, and excess mucus production that can lead to postnasal drip.

Having a nasal drip or stuffy nose can cause you to breathe through your mouth, causing your mouth to dry out and your saliva to thicken.

I think an ENT referral is appropriate and they will have the expertise and access to the investigations to further investigate the cause of your symptoms and offer some solutions.

In the meantime, talk to your pharmacist about what products might help, including saliva substitutes. From thick saliva to Alzheimer’s fears – Dr Zoe Williams answers your health questions

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