Five diseases that can be detected YEARS before diagnosis – and expert tips for how to spot them | The Sun
YOU'LL often hear doctors say early diagnosis saves lives, yet some diseases, such as endometriosis and Lyme disease, can take years, if not decades, to detect.
This can be due to a lack of awareness, but some serious conditions can also show very few signs, be confused for something else or not cause symptoms for months.
However, a recent study from University College London found illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease could be detected up to 10 years earlier than they are currently.
Researchers discovered that people with a range of conditions accessed healthcare, including seeing their GP, much more in the years prior to being diagnosed, meaning the “diagnostic window” for spotting conditions could be wider than currently believed.
So which diseases should you look out for and how can you protect yourself?
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Balance and coordination problems, loss of sense of smell, constipation, a change in handwriting.
People with Parkinson’s experience tremors (involuntary shaking), but many other symptoms can come on gradually.
Motor symptoms affect movement, causing stiffness and slowness.
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Non-motor symptoms, which can pop up years before, include depression and poor sleep.
Dr Rowan Wathes, associate director at Parkinson’s UK, says: “Parkinson’s can take years to progress to a point where it has a real impact on daily life.
“Someone might start having balance or coordination problems.
“They could lose their sense of smell or have gait changes, where they lean forward slightly or shuffle when walking.
“Others have fixed facial expressions – a ‘mask’ – due to changes in the nerves that control the face muscles.”
Early symptoms also include constipation and handwriting that becomes smaller and harder to read, but as these are common in the general population, they can go unidentified as
HELP PREVENT IT
Sip green tea.
Studies have shown it relates to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s – the same is true of aerobic exercise, so try skipping or water aerobics.
Motor neurone disease
Twitching or rippling sensation under the skin, gut “biomarkers”.
Motor neurone disease (MND) affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord responsible for telling your muscles how to move.
Symptoms include muscle weakness, spasms, cramps, stiff joints, pain and difficulties speaking, breathing and swallowing.
People tend to first notice weakness or stiffness in the limbs and extremities, affecting grip or triggering stumbles.
Early symptoms can be mild and confused with dozens of other conditions.
For example, twitching can signal tiredness, stress or a viral infection.
However, the University of Aberdeen found that proteins thought to contribute to MND can be found in the gut years before a patient flagged symptoms.
Routine testing for these biomarkers is some time off, but it could help with earlier diagnosis and access to treatment.
HELP PREVENT IT
Some studies suggest vitamin E and antioxidants can reduce MND risk, so increase your intake of berries, dark chocolate, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, red pepper, asparagus, mangos and avocados.
IBS-like symptoms, very painful periods.
An estimated 10% of women have endometriosis – when womb tissue turns up elsewhere in the body, causing immense period pain.
“It currently takes around eight years to get a diagnosis in the UK,” says Denise Rawls from Endometriosis UK.
“People believe the debilitating pain they are experiencing is just part of being a woman.”
Symptoms include pain when urinating or during sex, and diarrhoea or constipation – meaning many women are misdiagnosed with IBS.
HELP PREVENT IT
The cause of endometriosis is unknown.
Keep a diary of pain symptoms and show your GP.
Find a template at Endometriosis-uk.org.
Symptoms can show from three to 30 days after being bitten by an infected tick, but they may take months or years to emerge.
Even then, symptoms can be confusing, especially if you don’t realise you’ve been bitten.
First signs are often fever, headache, tiredness, body aches and a rash starting as a circle around the bite.
If diagnosed quickly, people can make a full recovery with antibiotics, but some suffer long-term symptoms, like exhaustion.
HELP PREVENT IT
Look for a bullseye rash – called erythema migrans – which affects around 70% of people.
When walking in rural areas, stick to paths, tuck trousers into your socks and check for tick bites when you get home.
Make sure your dog doesn’t bring any back on their fur either!
Often none, but it’s important to know what’s “normal” for you.
Cancer symptoms typically appear when a tumour is large enough to push against nearby tissue.
This can take longer for some types – men can live for decades without displaying symptoms of prostate cancer, for example.
Routine NHS screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer can catch disease before symptoms show.
At-home bowel cancer testing kits are sent every two years to Brits aged 60-74, and is currently being rolled out to those aged 50-59, in a win for The Sun’s No Time 2 Lose campaign.
Women aged 25-49 can have a smear test every three years (every five for those aged 50-64), and these detect human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes the majority of cervical cancers.
Breast screening is available every three years for 50-71 year olds.
HELP PREVENT IT
Attend screenings when invited. Regularly check your body for lumps and bumps in the shower, focusing on breasts and testicles, and look for any changes to moles.
If anything is unusual for you, see your GP.
Concerned you have any persistent early symptoms flagged here or others not listed?
Speak to your GP and follow up!
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Tricky-to-spot conditions can take longer to diagnose and you may need to be referred to specialists.
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