It’s a holly, jolly, pathology Christmas!

Before Know Pathology Know Healthcare signs off for 2019, we are sharing some sensible tips for a safer festive season and a few reasons that pathology might lend a helping hand to your healthcare over the holidays.

  1. Overindulgence

It is no secret that yuletide is a season of overindulgence. During our end of year celebrations there is sure to be consumption of food and drink, and usually of the not-so-healthy kind.

To ensure we don’t get too carried away in the bottle shop during our Christmas preparations, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has thoughtfully released some updated guidelines on alcohol consumption – for the first time in 10 years. If you like a tipple during your time off, take heed, you might be overdoing it more than you realise.

The recommended weekly limit for alcohol intake has been lowered and the guidelines say Australian adults should be drinking no more than 10 standard drinks per week, while previous guidance suggested that up to 2 standard drinks a day, or 14 per week, was the maximum. These guidelines are based on the latest evidence which shows stronger links to cancer from consuming alcohol.

If you do overdo it during the break, or are otherwise concerned about the longer lasting effects of alcohol on your body you can talk to your doctor about alcohol intake, any symptoms you’re having and health risks. Depending on your lifestyle and any symptoms, your doctor may request pathology tests such as liver function tests or a kidney check. These organs filter our blood so heavy drinking can damage them over time, but early detection helps to manage any problems and limit long term complications.

Alcohol consumption is only one of several risk factors for developing cancer so it’s important to look at the whole picture. Your doctor can assess your individual risk factors based on medical and family history as well as lifestyle factors and the results of relevant pathology tests. It’s important to know what cancer screening tests you may be eligible for and discuss these with your doctor.

  1. Yuletide not Spew-ltide!

While not wanting to dampen the festive foody fun, it’s important to ensure that all meat and seafood is properly cooked, and leftovers are stored appropriately. A dodgy prawn or slice of turkey could cause nasty stomach upsets but if symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea last for more than 24 hours, a doctor’s appointment might be necessary.

Raw poultry or eggs can carry Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria which can cause illness – commonly described as food poisoning. In otherwise healthy people, food borne bacterial infections may clear up without medication but sometimes antibiotics may be needed. Testing a stool sample can determine what bacteria are present and help a doctor choose which antibiotic to prescribe.

However, the cause of illness may not be bacterial. Vomiting and diarrhoea can also be caused by some viruses such as norovirus, which spreads more easily between groups of people in close confinement; for example, a house packed to the rafters with extended family. So, if someone falls ill a trip to the doctor and some pathology testing might be necessary to determine the cause of illness, the appropriate treatment, and any measures needed to prevent the spread of the infection to others.

  1. A gene is for life, not just for Christmas

The popularity of at-home genetic test kits is at a peak and many people will buy them as gifts for the relative ‘who has everything’. There is a broad spectrum of tests available – from tests mapping your genetic ancestry to those designed to predict cancer risk. Anyone looking to purchase an at-home DNA test should think carefully about the possible implications of test results before purchasing a kit – ESPECIALLY when buying for someone else.

  • Tests that are performed outside Australia are not subject to the rigorous quality standards placed on Australian pathology labs and may not be in line with guidance from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) and the Human Genetics Society of Australia (HGSA).
  • Provision of genetic counselling, both before and after tests, is very important to ensure the person being tested fully understands what they are signing up to, and what the results could mean. This can vary widely between providers.
  • Once you know, you always know. Unless a loved one has specifically requested this as a gift, consider whether you can be completely sure they will want to take part in testing. When it comes to genetics, informed consent is key, remember everyone has a right NOT to know.

Online DNA test kits are not designed to be diagnostic so anybody worried about genetic risk factors for disease should speak to their doctor.

These resources are available for more information about online DNA testing, and the HGSA have released their position statement here.

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