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home : columns : ask the doctors March 20, 2018

Potential benefits of milk thistle need further study in humans
What are the pros and cons of taking milk thistle?
Monday, March 19, 2018

Recent studies suggest leafy greens tied to cognitive health
My girlfriend is all-in on one of those low-carb diets and has pretty much stopped eating vegetables. (When she does eat any carbs, it's the bread and sweets that she craves). I'm hoping one of the new studies about leafy greens and brain health might change her habits. Can you talk a bit about them?
Saturday, March 17, 2018

Rare autoimmune disease attacks blood vessels
My brother died from Wegener's disease at age 62. Could you please tell me more about this disease -- what causes it and what can be done? Could there be a connection to the fact that our father died of rheumatoid arthritis at age 64?
Friday, March 16, 2018

Preoperative self-care can quicken patients' recovery time
I'm 75 years old and am scheduled to have minor surgery next month. My doctor has been pushing me to walk every day and to perform core exercises -- not to mention eating right -- ahead of my operation. Does this really matter?
Thursday, March 15, 2018

Common adenovirus has many subtypes
I've been hearing about adenovirus, which is often mistaken as the flu. How can you tell the difference? And is it as serious as the flu?
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Be careful when storing meds and supplements together
I take about nine different medications and dietary supplements per day. I use a pill container with slots for morning and evening, and it covers a two-week period. Can these meds and supplements be safely stored together? Do they lose potency being stored if they're in the container for two weeks?
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Years of physical farm labor likely cause of tingling in hand
I have painful tingling, burning and numbness in my right palm and fingers. It disrupts my sleep and makes it difficult to hold a pencil. A hand brace doesn't help. Is it carpal tunnel syndrome? What can I do?
Monday, March 12, 2018

Consult with a physician before going on keto diet

DEAR DOCTOR: I'm hearing a lot about the health benefits of a ketogenic diet, that it's great for weight loss and can even reverse diabetes. What is the diet, exactly? Are the claims true? 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Women 65 and over typically don't need routine pelvic exams
DEAR DOCTOR: I'm a 76-year-old woman who had a complete hysterectomy when I was 50. My daughters insist that I should still be seeing a gynecologist for cervical cancer screenings, including pelvic exams. Is this really necessary? I already see my family physician every six months for a checkup and blood work. 
Friday, March 9, 2018

Darker, less-processed chocolate can be enjoyed sparingly
How should chocolate be processed to preserve its healthful properties? I've read that a non-alkalizing process is better than an alkalizing process, but I don't understand the difference.
Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rare bone marrow disorder causes abundance of red blood cells
I've been diagnosed with polycythemia vera, which I understand is very rare. I'm currently being treated with phlebotomies. Please explain this diagnosis and what science has learned about it.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A healthy diet can usually provide all the nutrients you need
Doctors and nutritionists are now saying that taking vitamin and mineral supplements is worthless. But many of the foods we eat are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Are those additives worthless? If not, how are they different than taking a multivitamin?  
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

High lipoprotein(a) levels may indicate heart disease in some
DEAR DOCTOR: My blood test results always include levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, but what about lipoprotein(a)? Don't high levels triple the risk of a heart attack or stroke at an early age? If so, shouldn't doctors test for it?  
Monday, March 5, 2018

Recent 'raw water' movement is misguided
DEAR DOCTOR: My daughter has been talking about the merits of "raw water" -- and the perils of regular tap water. Could it be that people are really drinking non-sterilized or treated water? Isn't that dangerous?
Friday, March 2, 2018

The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown
DEAR DOCTOR: Would you kindly address the risks of e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes? I am opposed to both because of the potential for nicotine addiction and other health issues. Some of my adult relatives, however, are convinced e-cigs are not harmful, even though they clearly seem addicted.
Friday, March 2, 2018

Reader's plea a reminder that the flu can be deadly for many
DEAR READERS: With this year's flu season on a pace to be the worst in almost a decade, we want to take a moment to share an important letter that we received from a reader. As of this writing, at least 37 children have died from influenza infection. Because of the time lag in identifying and reporting flu deaths, officials suspect the true number is significantly higher. 
Thursday, March 1, 2018

Link between marijuana use and schizophrenia needs further study
DEAR DOCTOR: Could you comment on the marijuana study done in early 2016 at the University of Exeter and University College London? I'm worried about the 14-year-olds with whom I work and their dangers of psychosis. I was hoping we might start a dialogue about the risky business of marijuana.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Any potential long-term risks of cellphone use remain unknown
DEAR DOCTOR: I always thought the worries about the safety of cellphones were a bit overblown, but now I'm reading about new guidelines concerning cellphone radiation. Just what's so dangerous? And is looking at the screen as risky as using the phone to make calls?
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Those with an egg allergy can safely get a flu shot
DEAR DOCTOR: My pharmacist recently told me I could get a flu shot, even though I have an egg allergy. Is this true?
Monday, February 26, 2018

Study shows probiotic can relieve breast-fed colicky babies

DEAR DOCTOR: When our first son was born, we almost lost our minds as we rode out his bouts of colic. Our second son is due this spring and the idea of dealing with colic again already has me panicking. I've been reading that certain probiotics can help. Is this true? 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Rare transient global amnesia mostly affects people over 50

DEAR DOCTOR: Can you shed some light on transient global amnesia? I was diagnosed with this five years ago (I'm now 71) after my family noticed that I couldn't recall common facts. I had no physical ailment or injury prior to this, and I'm told that the recurrence rate is 1 percent. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

When sitting at a workstation, be sure to get up and move around
DEAR DOCTOR: I never gained the infamous "freshman 15" while I was in college. But now I've graduated and am behind a desk for nine hours a day for my new job. I'm not only putting on the pounds, I feel generally lousy. Is this just adjusting to working life, or is sitting so much bad for you?
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bad communication can imperil doctor-patient relationship
DEAR DOCTOR: My ex-wife was seeing a primary care doctor who also treated her heart issues, which were not of a serious nature. She sought a second opinion from a specialist, which prompted her own doctor to unceremoniously drop her as a patient, without even informing her. She found out the next time she called for an appointment. Is this ethical -- or even legal?
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Readers offer advice on teething devices and portion control
Hello again, dear readers! How is 2018 treating you so far? Thank you, as ever, for your emails and letters. Your kind comments warm our hearts; your criticisms make us want to do better; and your questions, comments and opinions widen our worldview. And on that note, onward! 
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rise of C. diff linked to mass-production of sugar substitute
Monday, February 19, 2018

Managing lymphedema takes sustained effort and self-care
DEAR DOCTOR: I'm 26 years old and have been diagnosed with lymphedema in all four limbs. I'm 5 feet 8 inches and weigh 193 pounds. I work out for an hour every morning and am physically active. What else can I do to help my lymphedema?
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Evidence suggests popular supplements not needed for bone health
DEAR DOCTOR: If vitamin D and calcium don't reduce the risk of bone fractures in older adults, as I recently read, is there any point in taking them?
Friday, February 16, 2018

Milk banks offer moms safely pasteurized milk for babies
DEAR DOCTOR: After the hurricane in Houston, a lot of moms donated their breast milk to help the babies. Is that safe?
Thursday, February 15, 2018

Steady, rapid heartbeat during the morning cause for concern
DEAR DOCTOR: Every morning upon waking, I feel an even/steady pulsing of about 200 beats per minute, although my pulse is normally about 60 beats per minute. I'm 84, with no symptoms of atrial fibrillation and a body mass index of 24. I take no medications and have no aches and pains. Again, this high pulse rate occurs only when I wake up, and I feel normal at the time. What could be causing this, and should I be concerned?
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Study suggests time of day may have effect on surgical outcome
DEAR DOCTOR: It seems like doctors always want to schedule surgeries as early as possible. But I recently read that heart surgery survival chances are better in the afternoon. Why would this be? Should people push their doctors for afternoon surgeries? 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dementia can be diagnosed with a battery of tests
DEAR DOCTOR: How is one screened for/diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia? What type of doctors does one see? What sorts of tests do they run? It runs in my family, and lately I've been forgetting conversations soon after they happen. But I don't know where to look for answers.
Monday, February 12, 2018

Study looked at grandparents' influence on grandkids' health

DEAR DOCTOR: I read that grandparents can increase a child's cancer risk by encouraging bad behaviors. Quite frankly, I'm offended by this. Couldn't they also improve a child's health? When our grandkids are visiting, we get them to eat much healthier food than they typically get at home.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Erosive osteoarthritis typically affects the joints of the hands

DEAR DOCTOR: I was just diagnosed with erosive osteoarthritis. What can you tell me about it? I have it mainly in my hands and feet. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Study suggests link between teen depression and social media
DEAR DOCTOR: I read that spending too many hours on social media is linked to an increase in teen depression and suicidal thoughts. I worry about my own kids, but what can we do? Everything is online now, and I don't want my kids to be outcasts. 
Thursday, February 8, 2018

How much water one should drink based on variety of factors
DEAR DOCTOR: There is an ongoing debate in my house about fluid/water intake to keep hydrated. Doesn't it make sense to drink water primarily when you feel thirsty? If not, how much do you need? 
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mild to moderate exercise has great benefits for mental health
DEAR DOCTOR: I've been feeling a bit down lately, and I read that even one hour a week of exercise could reduce depression. How much exercise is optimal to reduce the likelihood of depression?
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rates of relatively uncommon anal cancer have increased
DEAR DOCTOR: A friend of mine was diagnosed with, and treated for, anal cancer about two years ago. She never told me the location of her cancer until recently because she thought that "anus" and "anal" were shameful words. She also let the symptoms drag on for a year or so because she thought they were due to hemorrhoids. What are the symptoms, how is this type of cancer treated, and is it on the increase?
Monday, February 5, 2018

Scientists studying how synbiotics can prevent neonatal sepsis
DEAR DOCTOR: I recently read that probiotic bacteria could protect newborns from sepsis. Does that mean I should be giving probiotics to my newborn? 
Saturday, February 3, 2018

Link between zinc and prostate enlargement needs further study
DEAR DOCTOR: I developed acute prostate problems at the early age of 29. My doctor's prescriptions didn't work, so when a neighbor recommended 50 milligrams of zinc a day for at least 30 days, I gave it a shot. I haven't had any problems since -- and that was more than 30 years ago. Why don't more people use this miracle mineral for an enlarged prostate?
Friday, February 2, 2018

Patients are their best advocates when diagnosing an illness
DEAR DOCTOR: I'm a 63-year-old female, and for the last four months, I've had tingling sensations in my arms, legs, eyes and other parts of the body. These are followed by muscle spasms. Two doctors have told me they don't know the cause. What do you think is happening? 
Thursday, February 1, 2018

Taking too many vitamins can lead to unnecessary side effects
DEAR DOCTOR: How about a warning about the effect of too many vitamins? One example: B6. I recently checked my daily vitamin formula and found that it had more than twice the recommended B6. This is on top of what I get from my daily "health drink" and my healthy diet. My B6 level recently tested five times above the suggested level.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Study shows over-the-counter pain meds ease emotional suffering
DEAR DOCTOR: I recently heard a radio report that said Tylenol could ease the pain of hurt feelings. That seems hard to believe. If it's true, how does it work?
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Colonoscopies still best method for detecting colon cancers

DEAR DOCTOR: I know that colonoscopies are more thorough than the at-home DNA stool test for colon cancer. But how much better? I have such a terrible time with anesthesia and gas. Both make me nauseated for several days. No one in my family has ever had any colon problems or polyps. I'd really like to pass, if possible. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Although rare, type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed in adulthood

DEAR DOCTOR: I always thought Type 1 diabetes developed when you were a child, or not at all. But now they're saying it can happen as an adult, which is very alarming. How do I know if I develop it? 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Data suggesting marriage wards off dementia not conclusive

DEAR DOCTOR: I recently read that marriage reduces the risk of mental decline in old age. I'm not sure I buy it. But, assuming it's true, why would that be?  

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Recent bacterial outbreak linked to pet store puppies

DEAR DOCTOR: We just got a new puppy, but I'm almost afraid to let my child play with it. I read a news story that said puppies have been linked to some sort of bacterial infection. What should I do? 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Aplastic anemia can't simply be cured with iron supplements

DEAR DOCTOR: I have aplastic anemia. It is hard to explain this to people. Most of them hear the anemia part and get stuck there. I hear often: "Just take some iron" or, "My aunt had that and was cured with B12 shots." How do I quickly explain it better? 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cochlear implants can be adjusted to user's hearing needs

DEAR DOCTOR: I'm contemplating a cochlear implant for my right ear. How do they work, and what is the success rate of such procedures?  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Devastating Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease largely unknown to many

DEAR DOCTOR: Could you please explain Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease? Some people call it "mad cow disease," which gives it a stigma. I lost my twin brother to this disease, and it's left our family shattered. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

New guidelines help track hypertension in children
DEAR DOCTOR: How important is it to keep track of a child's blood pressure? I read that the American Academy of Pediatrics just updated its guidelines for screening and managing high blood pressure in kids. Is this really a problem that I need to worry about? 
Saturday, January 20, 2018

What medicare recipients can expect at 'preventive care' checkup
DEAR DOCTOR: I am a senior citizen on Medicare. I don't have a "regular" doctor, but rather, I go to a clinic when I have a problem. What is covered in the annual Medicare physical? What should I, as a patient, know and do?
Friday, January 19, 2018

Readers offer advice on headache relief and annual physicals
Hello, dear readers! We hope that you're settling into 2018. (It still sounds odd to say it!) We love that you're keeping our inbox full, and, as ever, we remain grateful for your interest and engagement in our columns. 
Thursday, January 18, 2018

No matter the time of day, always wear sunscreen
DEAR DOCTOR: Because I have fair skin and live in an area with a lot of sun, I try to do my outdoor activities early in the day (before 9 a.m.) or late in the afternoon (after 4 p.m.). Do I still need to wear sunscreen?
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Headline-grabbing flesh-eating bacteria still extremely rare
DEAR DOCTOR: Every now and then I read about a death related to "flesh-eating bacteria" that was contracted in water of some sort. The most recent one was in the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, near Houston. How does this happen? Is there anything we can do to stay safe?
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

More patients getting preventive care from different providers
DEAR DOCTOR: In the last few years I've noticed that after making an appointment to see a doctor, I'm often seen by a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner instead. What's the difference? When should I insist on being seen by a physician?
Monday, January 15, 2018

Getting shampooed at salon not as hazardous as headlines imply

DEAR DOCTOR: The back of my neck hurts when I have my hair shampooed at the salon. This worries me because I've read that some people have strokes when they have this type of shampoo, due to the arteries in the neck. Is there truth to this? 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Restless legs worsened by iron deficiency and lack of sleep

DEAR DOCTOR: I am 56 and in menopause. A couple of months ago, I started having severe restless leg syndrome, which even included my arms. I am now taking ropinirole before bed every night -- I also take Pristiq for depression. Although the medication has eliminated my restless leg syndrome, I worry about potential long-term effects. Any idea what could cause restless leg syndrome?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Flu vaccine won't give you the flu, despite repeated claims

DEAR DOCTOR: What is in the flu vaccine that makes people feel so bad? A co-worker of mine got a flu shot last year and wound up feeling quite ill. Can a flu shot give you the flu? 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Patient's withdrawal symptoms have her rethinking going off SSRI
DEAR DOCTOR: I am a 70-year-old woman who has been taking 20 milligrams of Paxil for 17 years. It has worked wonders for me, changing my life after a lifetime of depression. Last year my doctor told me she wants me to go off Paxil, saying that patients taking the drug were dying earlier. I have severe withdrawal symptoms when missing more than one dose, but she has left it up to me to wean myself from the drug. Do you suggest I continue the medication? Also, is there a connection between Paxil and Alzheimer's/dementia? It is very prevalent in my family. 
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Increased diet soda intake linked to host of health problems
DEAR DOCTOR: I feel better when I eat less sugar. Because I love having a soda with my snacks and meals, I drink a few diet colas every day. Is it true that diet sodas can increase the risk of developing diabetes?
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Treating Meniere's with drug combination can be effective

DEAR DOCTOR: I have been diagnosed with Meniere's disease in my right ear. So far I've used conservative measures, such as dietary changes, diuretics, sedatives and oral steroids, but they haven't helped. My ear, nose and throat doctor has suggested a procedure called "inner ear perfusion." Could this lead to hearing loss? 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reader's visual disturbances could be migraine auras
DEAR DOCTOR: I never have headaches, but I have visual disturbances that I believe are migraine auras. They're not bothersome and clear up within 10 minutes. But are they dangerous in any way? Am I having a migraine?
Saturday, January 6, 2018

Array of illnesses takes a toll on long-married couple
DEAR DOCTOR: My husband is in kidney failure, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and Type 2 diabetes. We have been married 48 years. He sleeps most of the day, is so short of breath that a walk to the bathroom is difficult and never leaves the house except to go to the doctor. He is angry and depressed, often taking his temper out on me. What can I do to help him (and us) besides watch his diet?
Friday, January 5, 2018

Fermented kefir currently the food fad of the moment
DEAR DOCTOR: Is kefir really the miracle food that it's cracked up to be? I'll confess that fermented milk does not sound very appealing to me. What is it, exactly? And how much should I consume a day?
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Getting IUD to reduce cervical cancer risk may not be necessary
DEAR DOCTOR: I'm too old (almost 30) for the HPV vaccination that can reduce my risk of cervical cancer. But I read that an IUD could do the same thing. Should I think about getting one, even though I prefer other forms of contraception?
Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Exercise, lessen stress and improve diet to lower blood pressure
Welcome to part two of our discussion about high blood pressure. For those who missed it, a previous column examined new blood pressure guidelines released by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, in which normal is now a range below 120/80. It's a conservative definition that puts people with blood pressure in the range of 120-129/80 into the "elevated" category. This is not a diagnosis of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Rather, it's a warning sign that, without certain lifestyle changes, hypertension may well be in your future.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New blood pressure guidelines leave many confused and concerned

DEAR DOCTOR: I'm so confused by the new blood pressure guidelines. Yesterday, my blood pressure was normal. With the new guidelines, though, I'm now considered to have high blood pressure. Is my doctor going to put me on medication? 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mushrooms known for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

DEAR DOCTOR: I thought mushrooms were kind of a nonstarter from a nutritional standpoint, but now I read they are the best source of the antioxidants linked to anti-aging. Have I underestimated their health benefits? They're kind of icky, but I'll eat them if I have to. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Learning portion size is important when choosing proteins
DEAR DOCTOR: Would you please explain what "grams of protein per pound of body weight" etc. actually LOOKS like on someone's dinner plate? I think a lot of readers would love to have a visual for how much protein we are supposed to be eating.
Thursday, December 28, 2017

Angioplasty not always necessary in patients with stable angina
DEAR DOCTOR: I've been having chest pain, and my doctor said that although I shouldn't panic, I should consider a stent. Now I read they're useless. What are my options? 
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Readers offer advice on doctors' visits and treating rashes
Hello again, dear readers! Your letters continue to pour in, and we are impressed by and grateful for your curiosity, kindness and your thirst for knowledge. We, too, are lifelong students and love learning from you. 
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

You're extremely unlikely to catch the same cold twice
DEAR DOCTOR: My wife had a bad cold, and then I unfortunately caught it. Then, just as I was recovering, she got it again. What's going on? I didn't think it was possible to get the same cold twice.
Saturday, December 23, 2017

Joint replacement usually needed for avascular necrosis
Friday, December 22, 2017

Age-related loss of taste and smell not uncommon
DEAR DOCTOR: Does loss of taste occur naturally with old age, or could it be a symptom of an illness? I'm 89, in pretty good shape with good blood pressure, but seem to be losing my sense of taste.
Thursday, December 21, 2017

Relative's unusual behavior could be result of 'silent strokes'
DEAR DOCTOR: A relative long ago diagnosed with atrial fibrillation has been behaving differently, such as sitting with his mouth gaping open, not attending to financial matters, taking too long to do errands, that kind of thing. Could silent TIAs be the culprit?
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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