What are the benefits of breast-feeding?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm pregnant and am getting a lot of pressure from family and friends to breast-feed. I'm not ruling that out, but I'd like to know what the research shows about the benefits of breast-feeding.

DEAR READER: Breast-feeding can be a contentious issue. On the one hand, there's no question that breast-feeding is healthy for babies. But some mothers prefer not to breast-feed, and others simply can't for a variety of reasons. So how much difference does breast-feeding make to a baby's health? A series of articles recently published in the journal Pediatrics gives us an idea.

What’s the difference between celiac disease and a gluten sensitivity?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Many people I know are going gluten-free. When I ask them why, I hear about gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. What do these terms mean?

DEAR READER: Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are two separate conditions with one thing in common: gluten. Gluten is a protein found in anything made with grains such as wheat, rye or barley. Gluten is what makes breads chewy. Celiac disease is a disorder in which the body can't tolerate gluten.

What are drug-free treatments to relieve osteoarthritis hand pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have osteoarthritis in my hand. Could you recommend some drug-free treatments to relieve the pain?

DEAR READER: Osteoarthritis causes stiffness and pain in the joints. It develops when cartilage -- the connective tissue that covers the ends of bones -- deteriorates. In a joint, the ends of two or more bones come together. The softer and more flexible cartilage that covers the ends of the bones acts as a cushion. If the cartilage were not there, the hard bones would grind against each other.

What is a TIA?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother went to the hospital for what we all thought was a stroke, but the doctor said it was a TIA. What is a TIA? What does this mean for my mother's health?

DEAR READER: First, let me tell you about a patient. She was a woman in her 70s who was in good health. One day she was on a bus to the grocery store, a trip she had taken hundreds of times. Suddenly, she felt disconnected from the world. When she felt connected again, she realized she hadn't gotten off at the right stop. I'll come back to what happened to her later.

Will probiotics help my constipation?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from constipation. Do you think probiotics might help?

DEAR READER: Probiotics are living bacteria found in cultured foods, like yogurt, and in dietary supplements. They have long been touted for their ability to ease digestive woes. The strongest evidence for probiotics is in treating diarrhea caused by a viral infection or from taking antibiotics. Our bodies are home to a mix of "good" and "bad" bacteria.

What does snoring have to do with heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: At my last checkup, my doctor asked if I snore. When I told the doctor that my husband says I snore a lot, the doctor said snoring can be a sign of heart disease, particularly in postmenopausal women. What does snoring have to do with heart disease?

DEAR READER: Snoring is not a sign of heart disease, but it can be a sign of sleep apnea. And people with sleep apnea are at greater risk for heart disease. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes brief, repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night.

What are some simple changes that help relieve neck pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a woman in my late 40s, and I have mild but aggravating neck pain that flares up from time to time. Can you suggest simple changes I can make at home and at work that might help?

DEAR READER: There are many things you can do to minimize your risk of recurring neck pain. Start by keeping your neck in a neutral position whether you are sitting or standing. That means your head should balance directly over your spine and not lean forward or be cocked to one side.

Should I take a joint support supplement if I have osteoarthritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have osteoarthritis. It's improved some with physical therapy and weight loss, but not entirely. Should I give "joint support" supplements a try? Which ones?

DEAR READER: Your question reminds me of two of my patients. "John" was a man in his 50s whose pain from arthritis in his knees made it hard for him to play pickup basketball. Physical therapy and pain medicines helped, but not completely.

How do you treat anemia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter recently learned that she has iron deficiency and anemia. Why would her iron be low? What is the treatment?

DEAR READER: Anemia means that the blood does not have enough red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. There are many kinds of anemia. In the United States, iron-deficiency anemia is the most common; it occurs when the body does not have enough iron to make red blood cells.

What is a left bundle branch block?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had an ECG that showed that I have a "left bundle branch block." What does this mean?

DEAR READER: When your heart beats, it does so in response to electrical signals. Your heart muscle is crisscrossed by a network of electrical pathways. A bundle branch block is caused by an abnormality in one of those pathways. The electrical signals that orchestrate each heartbeat work this way.