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home : columns : ask the doctors June 19, 2018

Heart monitor will assess number of pvcs over 24-hour period
About 15 years ago, while giving blood, I was advised of an irregularity, which my doctor confirmed after an EKG, known as premature ventricular contractions. He told me not to worry, and I've not had any problems. Now I'm 79 and still in good health, but my current doctor had me wear a heart monitor and has now referred me to a cardiologist. Should I be concerned?
Monday, June 18, 2018

Potential mumps outbreak feared after exposure to virus at event
Dear Doctor: Are mumps really dangerous? Thousands of people apparently may have been exposed at a cheerleading event a few months ago, which seemed to upset public health officials. My kids have been vaccinated, but I'm not sure if I have been, or even if I've had the disease. Should I be concerned? 
Saturday, June 16, 2018

Slowly progressing cataracts may not affect vision at first
DEAR DOCTOR: I'm 62, and during my routine eye exam yesterday, the doctor said that I am showing the first signs of cataracts. I know that cataracts develop slowly, but she wants to see me in six months. Does a six-month wait make sense?
Friday, June 15, 2018

Don't overdo it when launching a new workout routine
I'm a middle-aged guy, and I thought my health was fine. But I just got diagnosed with pre-diabetes, so I've started hitting the gym pretty hard -- cardio five days a week, strength-training three days a week. Now I read that all this activity can raise my risk of a heart attack. What gives?
Thursday, June 14, 2018

Angioedema can be difficult to control
My doctor diagnosed me with food-allergy-related angioedema and sent me to an allergist, who couldn't find a cause. I'm afraid to eat anything because I never know when it's going to flare up, making my tongue, lips and inner mouth around my gums swell. I take Zyrtec and Benadryl, but they're not especially helpful. What else can I do?
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Toddler's remarkable story highlights hyperbaric oxygen therapy
How did oxygen therapy help the brain of that toddler who almost drowned a few years ago? Has the child completely recovered from her near-death experience?
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lifestyle changes can reduce frequency of atrial fibrillation
I've suffered from atrial fibrillation for several years now. I recently read that overall heart health could reduce the risk of the condition. Is it too late for me, considering I've already been diagnosed?
Monday, June 11, 2018

Ongoing research into hiv treatment shows promise
Is it true that HIV can now be considered a chronic disease? Does that mean people are no longer looking for a true cure?
Saturday, June 9, 2018

Cholesterol-lowering statin causes reader muscle weakness
I am an 88-year-old man who, until recently, played a decent game of golf twice a week. Then, about 18 months ago, I began to experience weakness throughout my body, especially in my legs. Casual research indicated that Crestor, a statin I have taken for several years, was likely to blame. My doctor took me off Crestor two months ago in hopes that the condition would reverse, but any improvement is insignificant. Why do doctors prescribe debilitating drugs with no regard to side effect warnings?
Friday, June 8, 2018

Scientists continuing to study how fiber aids gut microbiome
I know that all sorts of studies show that fiber is good for you, but has anyone figured out the reason why?
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Further study needed on magnesium and kidney stone formation
Can patients with chronic kidney stones reduce their likelihood of problems by adding daily magnesium to their diet?
Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Adding weight-lifting regimen as we age improves overall health
I retired from a demanding desk job last year and, at age 65, have had to face the facts -- I have become sedentary and need to lose at least 20 pounds. My wife is helping me out with a more healthful diet. But my son says that in addition to the swimming and cycling program I'm on, I need to start lifting weights. Why aren't the pool and the bike enough?
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Researchers still studying link between TBI and Parkinson's
I had several concussions when I was younger due to various sports activities, not to mention one singularly bad bike ride. Now I read that a single concussion can raise the risk of Parkinson's disease. Just how serious is this increase in risk, and should I be worried?
Monday, June 4, 2018

Lettuce recall serves as reminder to practice good hand hygiene

DEAR DOCTOR: Like practically everyone else in the United States, we threw out our romaine lettuce because of the E. coli outbreak. What is E. coli and how do we avoid it? 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Phantom smells often linked to damaged nasal cavity
DEAR DOCTOR: Last year, for four months, I smelled cigarette smoke all the time -- even though I wasn't near smokers. The problem went away, but now it's back. I can be in bed, in my kitchen, at the grocery store, even church. I have been diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Is there a connection? If not, what's causing this?
Friday, June 1, 2018

Scientists still learning how fats are stored and metabolized
I hate dieting and have been putting off losing these last 12 pounds of baby weight. My husband says I should at least start exercising because it makes your fat healthier. Can this really be true?
Thursday, May 31, 2018

Using public restroom's hand dryer spreads bacteria around
Considering the recent news coverage of how hot-air hand dryers do little more than blow bacteria around, am I better off just wiping my hands on my pants when using a public restroom?
Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Talk to your doctor before taking a statin with grapefruit juice
Years ago, I was told not to consume grapefruit or grapefruit juice with statins. Now I understand that this restriction no longer applies. Is this correct?
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Burning Mouth Syndrome necessitates a variety of treatments
After suffering from a metallic taste in my mouth for two years, I've been told by my doctor that I might be suffering from burning mouth syndrome. What can you tell me about this? I'm past menopause, take blood pressure medication, have had numerous X-rays and am pre-diabetic, all of which an internet search suggested might be factors.
Monday, May 28, 2018

Follow food safety protocols to avoid tapeworm infections
I read a few years ago that someone wound up with tapeworms after eating raw fish, and now it has apparently happened again. What's the deal?
Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rare, poorly understood disease leaves skin red, hot and painful
Will you please explain erythromelalgia? What can ease the pain other than pills? Why does it spread to my upper legs, and what makes it so crippling? And does it worsen with time?
Friday, May 25, 2018

'Demoralization Syndrome' often follows parkinson's diagnosis
My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease last year. One of the biggest challenges for our family has been how depressed he became. The antidepressants he takes don't seem to help at all, and my daughter says that's because he's actually demoralized, not depressed. What does this mean?
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Stick with tried and true meds to boost thyroid production
I have been taking levothyroxine for an underactive thyroid for about 40 years. I have progressed from 0.025 milligrams to 100 milligrams currently. I recently read an article indicating that long-term use of this drug increases the incidence of bone fractures by about 80 percent. I am 74 years old. What alternatives are available to treat this condition?
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Reader feedback encourages follow-up on BP guidelines
The change in seasons means fewer layers of clothes and more outdoor activities. With that in mind, we'd like to remind you to please use sunscreen, consider bug sprays to deal with the return of mosquitoes and ticks, and to ease into the return to physical activity to avoid injuries.
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Increase in liver enzymes often linked to fatty liver disease
I recently had blood work done, and now my doctor says my liver enzymes are too high. How can I lower them? I have no symptoms, so I was surprised. I have never consumed alcoholic beverages, nor smoked. I am trying to lose some weight. I do frequently take ibuprofen for arthritis.
Monday, May 21, 2018

Make physical activity a family priority
Dear Doctor: My husband and I have a running battle with two of our three kids, who have zero interest in anything that isn't on a screen. They're 11 and 13, so rational arguments about their adult health don't work. Just how important is it for kids to get regular exercise? 
Saturday, May 19, 2018

Naloxone can quickly save someone overdosing on opioids
DEAR DOCTOR: Did the surgeon general really just suggest that the general public carry naloxone in case they encounter someone having an opioid overdose? For starters, where would you even get such a thing? And two, how is the average person supposed to know who's overdosing -- and on opioids?
Friday, May 18, 2018

There's a clear connection between exercise and well-being
Just how effective is exercise against depression? I read that stopping exercise worsens depression in as little as three days, so that seems pretty powerful.
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Studies show pde5 inhibitors to be effective in treating BPH
What is your opinion of using Cialis to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia? And what should the dosage be?
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fatty liver disease distressingly common in the united states
Can you talk about overweight kids and fatty liver disease? I thought this was something that only happens to alcoholics.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Treatment of Lupus is lifelong commitment for some patients
What can you tell me about lupus? Is it true that there are two different kinds? One of the skin, and one that affects the entire body?
Monday, May 14, 2018

Patients should be told of the risks associated with apitherapy
What on earth is bee-sting therapy -- and what is it supposed to do? I ask because apparently someone died after having it.
Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cause of vestibular migraines not known
I have just been diagnosed with vestibular migraines. Could you give me information on the symptoms and treatment?
Friday, May 11, 2018

Soaking in a hot bath may offer benefits similar to exercise
Can a hot bath really burn as many calories as a brisk walk? If so, give me the hot bath any day!
Thursday, May 10, 2018

The genetics of depression and suicide are not fully understood
Does depression run in families? That is, is it inherited? Enough to make a person suicidal?
Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Loading up on protein will help build muscle mass
I'm 44, newly single, and have started lifting weights because I hear it can help with mood and confidence. Am I on the right track? Also, my brother insists I have to start eating a lot more protein if I want to see results in the mirror. Is this true?
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Recent study shows promise in early-stage cancer diagnosis
I recently read that a modified Pap smear has the potential to show early warning signs of ovarian and endometrial cancers, as well as cervical cancer. How accurate is this test, and when might it be available?
Monday, May 7, 2018

Sinus infections are common and treatable
DEAR DOCTOR: Just how risky are sinus infections? I read about a teenager who died recently after a sinus infection spread to his brain. Is this common? How do you prevent a sinus infection?
Saturday, May 5, 2018

Why it's not a good idea to clean your ears with cotton swabs
DEAR DOCTOR: I understand that poking cotton swabs into the ear is dangerous. But how is one supposed to clean the ears otherwise? I don't want to see goopy yellow wax in anyone's ear canal or to have it in my own.
Friday, May 4, 2018

Metabolic syndrome more prevalent among older adults
My doctor says I'm on the verge of being diagnosed with something called "metabolic syndrome." Is it serious? Can I get rid of it?
Thursday, May 3, 2018

No dietary guidelines exist for treatment of MDS
I am a 62-year-old woman diagnosed last year with a myelodysplastic syndrome. I have blood work done every three months, but my white count keeps dropping. Most days, I feel fine, but I retired from teaching because of fatigue. What foods and drinks should I avoid? Should I eat only organic produce?
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Antibiotics may be option for patients with acute appendicitis
My older brother was experiencing abdominal pain and nausea, and when he went to his doctor, he was told he had a "hot" appendix. But instead of surgery, he was treated with antibiotics. Is this safe? Shouldn't his appendix have been removed?
Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Patient worries about side effects of anti-arrhythmic medication
My doctor wants me to take amiodarone for my heart. But the potential side effects scare the heck out of me: possible death, permanent blindness, liver problems, thyroid problems. Should I do catheter ablation instead? My doctor says my fears are unwarranted.
Monday, April 30, 2018

Talk to your doctor first before trying fasting-mimicking diet
I'm reading a lot about a fasting-mimicking diet, which is supposed to help you live longer. What is it? I've been planning to lose some weight and wonder whether this diet might be worth trying.
Saturday, April 28, 2018

Swedish study confirms that exercise helps ward off dementia
Being physically fit in middle age can decrease the risk of dementia, according to my sister-in-law. She walks four miles a day and runs on the weekends, so I imagine she's covered. But I work full-time and am a single mom to three busy kids, so I'm short on free time. Just how much exercise is enough? 
Friday, April 27, 2018

Fecal transplant not always prescribed for C. Diff infections
A colleague just returned from a long hospital stay, where he battled a C. diff infection. He had asked for a fecal transplant but was refused. Will these ever become the standard of care? Are there uses for these procedures other than to fight C. diff infections?
Thursday, April 26, 2018

FDA considers what counts as dietary 'fiber' on food lables
I always thought fiber was fiber, but it seems that the FDA is about to crack down on food manufacturers who add weird ingredients to bulk up processed foods. Does it really matter whether the fiber we're eating is added or is a natural part of our food?
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hacking into medical devices is theoretical possibility
As a fan of the TV show "Homeland," I was skeptical (and also creeped out) when a character was assassinated by someone hacking his pacemaker. But I just read that this might actually be possible. My dad has a pacemaker, and now I'm worried. Is this really a serious risk?
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Readers offer feedback on Kefir and migraines
We closed a past column with a question about how any health-related New Year's resolutions were going, whether there was success or stagnation, and what plans people had in place to move forward. And because of the focus on diet, weight loss and general health in the responses we received, we've put several columns about these topics into the pipeline, with more to come. We hope you'll find them useful.
Monday, April 23, 2018

Ear pressure from otitis media can cause feelings of dizziness
Dear Doctor: I have recently experienced severe vertigo due to fluid pressing against my eardrum, which happened after a sinus infection. What was going on? How can I avoid a repeat?
Saturday, April 21, 2018

Prolonged standing at work can cause discomfort throughout body
DEAR DOCTOR: I always thought standing desks were good for you. Now I read they might not be. Can it really be better to sit all day long? This is an important question to me, because my job is very busy -- and all done from a desk.
Friday, April 20, 2018

Overseas travel plans could be hampered by measles outbreak
There's apparently a serious measles outbreak going on in Europe right now. Does that mean that our family shouldn't go on our planned trip to Italy this spring?
Thursday, April 19, 2018

At-home test for breast cancer mutation not comprehensive
I don't have a history of breast cancer in my family, but now that there's an at-home test for the BRCA mutations, should I get tested just in case? It has to be less expensive than going to a doctor, and it might provide some peace of mind.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Study suggests link between brain's blood supply and memory
I've read that memory is linked to the heart's ability to pump blood, with a reduced ability leading to poorer memory. Is there anything I can do to keep the blood flowing to my brain?
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

High potassium levels can casue symptoms similar to anxiety
I started taking potassium pills about five years ago. Then after a few months, I began to have anxiety attacks so severe that I could barely talk to people. Finally, I read warnings about potassium's side effects, which included anxiety attacks. I immediately stopped taking the pills, but still have mild anxiety attacks. More people should know about this side effect.
Monday, April 16, 2018

Noise pollution cases sharp increase in stress hormones
My son just got a job working construction in Houston, which means he's surrounded by noise pretty much all the time. A family friend says he read that all that noise might be bad for my son's health, including his heart. Just how strong is the connection between heart disease and noise pollution?
Saturday, April 14, 2018

Incidence of Crohn's Disease rising in U.S. and Europe
What causes Crohn's disease? My grandson has had two surgeries for it. Did the food he ate while growing up cause it? I have heard that it is genetic, but we don't know of anyone in his family who has had it.
Friday, April 13, 2018

Japanese flu drug shows promising results in patient trials
Apparently Japan just approved a new drug that can get rid of the flu virus in one day. When can we get this drug in the United States? And if we can't, can we order it online?
Thursday, April 12, 2018

Some factors to consider when choosing a new primary care doctor
Our doctor is retiring, and my wife and I have been told we need to select a new physician within two months. But we read the bios of available doctors in our area who are accepted by our insurance, and their degrees are not from first-class facilities. How can we make a good selection and be assured of quality care?
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Coconut oil is a saturated fat that should be used in moderation
Coconut oil has gotten to be really popular, but now there's a study that says it's just as bad for you as beef fat and butter. How is that possible? It has no animal fat whatsoever.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Surgical techniques for aneurysm have greatly improved over time
I was recently diagnosed with an aortic thoracic aneurysm and scheduled for surgery. What are the risks, and can I expect to live a normal life afterward?
Monday, April 9, 2018

Working the night shift can have drastic effect on good health

Dear Doctor: So many bad things seem to be associated with night shifts -- first an increased breast cancer risk, now an increased risk of obesity. Why is that? Is there any way to lessen the risks?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Exercise, sunshine and diet key to high magnesium intake
DEAR DOCTOR: Much is said about calcium and vitamin D, but what about magnesium? As I understand it, that's a crucial part of the bone-building equation. Should people be taking magnesium supplements?
Friday, April 6, 2018

Consider low-impact exercise after double hip replacement
Before I had a double hip replacement at 47, I was an avid daily runner, participating in several marathons per year and any charity event possible. Everything I've read says not to run with hip replacements. Do I really have to cut running out of my life?
Thursday, April 5, 2018

Patient's neuropathy linked to recent MRI with gadolinium
Not too long ago I developed symptoms of peripheral neuropathy that occurred almost immediately after having an MRI with gadolinium contrast. A physician confirmed that I had retained gadolinium. Shouldn't people be made aware of this potential adverse reaction to gadolinium?
Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cannabis compounds trick brain into having the 'munchies'
I've read stories about Girl Scouts selling hundreds of boxes of cookies outside pot shops to people who are anticipating the munchies. My question is: What is it about cannabis that causes that kind of hunger?
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hyperthyroidism often not due to low iodine levels
I take medication daily for hypothyroidism and borderline high blood pressure. My question is: Do I benefit from iodide in table salt or should I buy plain salt for cooking?
Monday, April 2, 2018

Results of Medditerranean diet study short on necessary details
Apparently one size does not fit all when it comes to the Mediterranean diet, because a recent study found that rich people benefit from it and poor people don't. It can't be as simple as that. What gives?
Saturday, March 31, 2018

Nonallergic rhinitis often linked to hyper-responsive nerves
I have been plagued with clear nasal drip for a couple of years. The constant dripping is most prevalent when I eat, lift something heavy or even just get up from a chair. I have tried various antihistamines and nasal sprays. What else is there?
Friday, March 30, 2018

Possibility of cattle eye worm infestation exceedingly rare
Please tell me more about the recent story in the news about the young woman who spent time on a ranch and then found worms living inside her eyes. We are cattle ranchers, and now I'm worried about my husband and kids.
Thursday, March 29, 2018

Origins of annoying seborrheic keratoses are a mystery
I'm 88 and have small, brown, rough -- and very itchy -- spots that develop on my back and other areas. If I can scratch them off, the itching goes away. One spot that I didn't scratch off is now embedded and I can't get it off. Two dermatologists have basically said, "It's your age. Live with it." Isn't there another answer?
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Air pollution can have adverse health effects on the elderly
I'm 84 and live in a big city. I try to walk as many places as I can, but I've read that air pollution may shorten the lifespan of seniors. Should I stay inside instead?
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Despite slight cancer risk, brith control pills considered safe
Monday, March 26, 2018

Rectal itch an embarassing problem that's tough to cure

Dear Doctor: What can I do about persistent, intermittent rectal itch? I keep the area clean and dry and have tried numerous over-the-counter anti-itch medications, which seem to work for a short time before becoming ineffective. My primary care physician gave me an anti-fungal prescription (clotrimazole with betamethasone), which my dermatologist said was unwarranted. Your suggestions? 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants
We've received a lot of feedback on the column about nurse practitioners (also referred to as NPs) and physician assistants (also known as PAs). Several letter-writers corrected our use of an apostrophe in referring to the profession of physician assistant. It may seem trivial but in fact there's a crucial difference between "physician's assistant" and "physician assistant," and it's about autonomy. A physician assistant is a clinician in her or his own right. We regret (and won't repeat) the error. 
Thursday, March 22, 2018

Not enough is known about Kratom to support its use
What, exactly, is kratom? The FDA has apparently called it an opioid, even though it seems to be an herbal supplement. Is it safer than prescription opioids? I'm afraid of opioids, but if this is safer, I'll try it.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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