Archive for 2012

What is astigmatism?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I wear corrective glasses for astigmatism, but I don't really understand what astigmatism is.

DEAR READER: Astigmatism means that the cornea of the eye has an irregular shape. The cornea is the clear covering over the lens and the iris. The iris controls how much light enters the eye. The lens focuses the light on the retina, the light-sensitive area at the rear of the eye. The cornea protects these structures and helps to transmit light through the eye.

What is a wrist replacement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: We've all heard of hip and knee replacements -- but is it true that you can have your wrist replaced too?

DEAR READER: We like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable, but the truth is that some of our parts are replaceable. The joint replacements you hear most about are those of the knees and hips, but surgeons also have been replacing hand joints for decades.

Can a stroke cause depression?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My father had a stroke and has become depressed during his long recovery. Will antidepressants help? I'm asking because of the damage the stroke has done to his brain.

DEAR READER: I remember a patient like your father. Before his stroke, he was outgoing, active in his church and community, and always cracking jokes. Then he was hit with a stroke that paralyzed his left arm and leg. Fortunately, his speech and thinking were not affected, but his personality changed completely. He sat in bed saying very little to anyone who came in the room, including his family, friends and doctor. When physical therapists tried to get him to do exercises to build back the strength on his left side, he was mostly uncooperative.

How is hearing loss tested?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm losing my hearing so my doctor has scheduled an audiological evaluation. What will this evaluation tell me?

DEAR READER: An audiological evaluation identifies the severity of your hearing loss and the frequency range in which it occurs. This information may help identify the cause of your hearing loss. It's also essential for determining whether you could benefit from a hearing aid and, if so, which style and type would help the most.

What is gastroenteritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was pretty sick recently, and my doctor said I had gastroenteritis. I've never had it before. How did I get it? And what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: I'll bet you've had gastroenteritis before, but your doctor didn't use that term. Nearly everyone gets gastroenteritis at some time in their lives, often more than once. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the intestines. It causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite and vomiting.

What is infectious arthritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw my doctor for pain and inflammation in my knee. He said I have arthritis caused by a bacterial infection. Could this be true?

DEAR READER: I'll bet that, like many of my patients, you think of arthritis as something caused by wear and tear on a joint. That is the main cause of the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis. However, there are other kinds of arthritis, too.

What are the risks of getting a tattoo?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son wants to get a tattoo. What are the risks?

DEAR READER: These days it seems like every other young person has a tattoo, so it should come as no surprise that your teen wants one, too. Tattoos can allow a teen to be like his peers or simply to make an artistic statement.

What are the side effects of medications for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My young granddaughter has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. I worry about the effects of the powerful medications she has to take.

DEAR READER: Modern medicine has created real miracles. We have been smart enough to create treatments that relieve suffering and prevent premature death beyond what was previously possible. But we are not yet smart enough to create tests and treatments that are free of side effects.

Is high HDL cholesterol good?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For years my doctor has been telling me about the benefits of high levels of HDL cholesterol. Now I read that high HDL may not protect against heart disease after all. Is "good" cholesterol still good for you?

DEAR READER: The HDL cholesterol story is a cautionary tale. It demonstrates once again that even the most persuasive theories about what should make us healthy need to be put to the test. It has been solidly established that people who have high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol have a higher risk of developing heart disease. Moreover, it has been solidly established that treatments that lower LDL cholesterol reduce the risk of developing heart disease.