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The medical term for swallowing problems, or when your food feels like it is stuck in the throat or chest, is dysphagia (stock image)

My food has been struggling to go down for the past month and I have had pain as a serious indigestion. More recently I also have stomach cramps. Are the two connected?

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The medical term for swallowing problems, or when your food feels like it is stuck in the throat or chest, is dysphagia. Sometimes the food is really stuck, or otherwise it feels that way because the esophagus is irritated. These symptoms often affect the intestine and also cause cramps and abdominal pain.

In young people, dysphagia is rarely a sign of anything serious, but it can be a problem with the esophagus. A reflux of stomach acid is a common cause.

Heartburn irritates the mucous membrane of the esophagus and causes a heavy feeling and swallowing problems.

The medical term for swallowing problems, or when your food feels like it is stuck in the throat or chest, is dysphagia (stock image)

The medical term for swallowing problems, or when your food feels like it is stuck in the throat or chest, is dysphagia (stock image)

An allergy is another cause of irritation, which doctors call eosinophilic esophagitis.

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In older people whose symptoms persist for at least a month, this can be a sign of a tumor or serious nervous or muscle disorders such as MS.

Alternatively, it can be a condition called achalasia, where the esophagus becomes too tight and blocks the movement of food. To find out, doctors perform a scan, an endoscopy, where a camera is screwed through the throat and into the esophagus.

Antacids can help in the meantime.

Palin will sail quickly

Michael Palin, above, must undergo surgery to repair a heart valve

Michael Palin, above, must undergo surgery to repair a heart valve

Michael Palin, above, must undergo surgery to repair a heart valve

Monty Python star Michael Palin, above, needs surgery to repair a heart valve – but he shouldn't worry. Leaking valves are surprisingly common, affecting up to one in 20 people. Some people do not need treatment, but surgery may be necessary if the condition causes chest pain, fatigue and dizziness. These symptoms occur because the blood does not all flow in the right direction.

Repair work is not a small business – it usually means open heart surgery. But Palin, famous for his travel documentaries, can expect to be on the road after a day and rediscover the world within a few months.

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I was diagnosed with emphysema 20 years ago and it has slowly become worse. Last week a nurse told me it was caused by a genetic problem called alpha1. What is it and should my family be screened?

Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that affects patients' ability to breathe. It is common in smokers, along with another condition called chronic bronchitis. Both fall under the umbrella of what is known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

But about one in 100 will develop one of these disorders as a result of an underlying genetic disorder. This is called alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency, it is inherited from your parents and causes a depletion of one of the body's lung-protecting proteins.

If a smoker has the genetic condition, this can cause his COPD to be much more serious. For non-smokers, the COPD entails when we would not expect it.

We think about 25,000 people in the UK have the genetic condition, but many more people don't know they have it, because not everyone develops problems. However, most people with alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency are more sensitive to pollution, smoking, passive smoking and dust particles.

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In addition to emphysema, people with the condition can also develop another type of lung damage, called bronchiectasis.

If a family member has the condition, it is worth checking other family members through a simple blood test. Even if they don't have the disease, they can very well carry the defective gene so that they can pass it on.

The test will also prevent an incorrect diagnosis if lung problems occur later in life.

Bell-belling at cancer departments is a relatively new idea, to mark the end of treatment. But some patients want to have it demolished because it is a "kick in the teeth" for those who still suffer. I understand their point. Cancer treatment is a mental, emotional and physical trauma like no other, and getting through it deserves to be celebrated – but not with a bell that can be heard by those for whom there is no cure.

I was a strong believer in high street genetic testing when it arrived in the UK. The chance to unlock your own DNA and find out more about your origins and traits that you have with you, such as a sensitivity to coffee, is fun and empowering. But now there is a dark side.

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These tests can also reveal genes that present the risk of fatal, often incurable, illnesses – and do not appear to have the accuracy that people would expect. There are now cases of results that have led to false reassurance and false diagnoses.

My advice is to use them to find out where your family is coming from, but not to determine your health risks.

  • Email DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT. Dr. Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to an individual or give personal answers. Always consult your own doctor if you are concerned about health.

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