Health

When can I go back to work after a heart attack?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am 59 years old. I recently came home after being hospitalized for five days for a mild heart attack. I feel great -- but my doctor says he doesn't want me to go back to work for another six weeks, even though my job mostly involves sitting at my desk. I like to stay busy and feel ready to return to the office. Please advise.

DEAR READER: The treatment of heart attacks has come a long way in the past 30 years. Doctors can now open blocked coronary arteries with angioplasty balloons and stents or "clot-busting" drugs. We can use stress tests and echocardiograms to classify patients as low-, intermediate- or high-risk when they are discharged from the hospital. And patients go home with medications that reduce the likelihood of another heart attack.

How does salt affect blood pressure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have high blood pressure, and my doctor advised me to cut back on salt. Can you explain how salt affects blood pressure?

DEAR READER: Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is blood pressure greater than 140/90 mm Hg. High blood pressure increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, loss of vision and other health problems. Many studies show that blood pressure rises with higher levels of sodium in the diet.

How are abdominal adhesions treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had abdominal surgery last year. Soon after, I started experiencing severe pain and swelling in my abdomen. It turns out I have abdominal adhesions. I'd never heard of them. What are they, and how are they treated?

DEAR READER: Abdominal adhesions are bands of fibrous scar tissue. They can cause organs that are normally not connected to stick to one another or to the wall of the abdomen.

How can I prevent addiction to my prescription painkillers?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor has prescribed prescription painkillers -- opioids -- for my severe back pain. They relieve my pain, but how can I reduce my risk of becoming hooked?

DEAR READER: Simply being aware of the risk of addiction is a good first step in ensuring that you do not become addicted to prescription painkillers. I'll explain a little bit about painkillers. Then I'll describe some steps you can take to prevent addiction.

What should I know about testicular cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 30s. A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. What should I know about this cancer? Should I be screened for it?

DEAR READER: Testicular cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both testicles (testes). Nearly all testicular cancers start in germ cells. These are the cells that make sperm. The testicles are located in the scrotum, behind the penis.

What is toxic shock syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw a warning about toxic shock syndrome on a box of tampons. What is it, and what does it have to do with tampon use?

DEAR READER: Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare, life-threatening illness triggered by certain bacteria. The two bacteria most often involved are streptococci ("strep") and staphylococci ("staph"). The cases caused by streptococci tend to be the most severe. In TSS, toxins (poisons) produced by these bacteria cause a severe drop in blood pressure that can lead to organ failure.

Do I really need regular dental checkups?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I take good care of my teeth, brushing and flossing regularly. Do I still need to have regular dental checkups?

DEAR READER: Even if you brush your teeth three times a day and floss daily, regular checkups with a dental professional are a must. For most people, two checkups per year are enough. That's what I have. Routine visits usually include a professional cleaning, an exam and possibly X-rays.

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is inflammatory bowel disease?

DEAR READER: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) usually refers to two conditions: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract. In both types of inflammatory bowel disease, the body's immune system starts attacking the intestinal tissue. This attack may be an example of "collateral damage."

Do babies need to take a vitamin and mineral supplement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The other day I saw a vitamin and mineral supplement for infants. Should I be giving this to my baby?

DEAR READER: Most babies who regularly breast-feed or take commercial infant formula get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Sometimes, however, your doctor may prescribe certain vitamin and mineral supplements. Do not give your baby any supplements unless your doctor recommends them.