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Do shift workers have an increased risk for health problems

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a nurse, and I can be assigned to work the day shift, evening shift or night shift. I hear that shift workers can develop health problems. What is known about that?

DEAR READER: More than 9 million people in the United States are shift workers like you. Studies show that nearly 10 percent of night-shift workers have severe reactions to that schedule. Some become overwhelmingly sleepy during the night shift, when they need to be alert. Some have trouble concentrating and focusing on a task. Others can't really fall deeply asleep during the day, when they need to get some sleep.

Does the immune system really change with the seasons

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend heard about a study that said a person's immune system changes with the seasons. That seems incredible to me. But if it's true, it's fascinating. Do you know what she is talking about?

DEAR READER: I think I know the study she is referring to. Before describing what it found, it's worth talking a bit about the immune system and also about genes.

Could I have PTSD?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Last year, a truck ran a red light, totaled my car and nearly totaled me. I spent several weeks in the hospital. Since then my body has healed, but I'm not myself. I'm very irritable, easily angered and sleeping poorly. A friend says I have PTSD, but I thought that occurred to people -- soldiers, for instance -- exposed to repeated threats.

DEAR READER: Your friend is astute. Post-traumatic stress disorder -- PTSD -- is a condition in which distressing symptoms occur after a major trauma. While the media often talk about PTSD in soldiers who have seen active combat, you don't have to be in battle to get PTSD. A single horrible event, like a bad auto accident, can surely do it.

Do I need a daily medicine to prevent gout?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have had three attacks of gout in the past year. I never had it before. Now my doctor wants me to take a medicine every day, even though I feel fine. Is this a good idea?

DEAR READER: Well, you have a kindred soul in Doctor K, since I also have developed gout in recent years. The disease occurs when a natural chemical called uric acid finds its way into the joints that connect two bones. All of us always have some amount of uric acid in our blood. In people with gout, the amount of uric acid usually is higher than normal.

Is it dangerous to sleep too much?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard a lot about the harmful effects of insufficient sleep. But are there any dangers of sleeping too much?

DEAR READER: Over the years we've learned that sleep is important for a variety of reasons. It appears to be vital for forming long-term memories. It also helps you to digest what you have learned the previous day. Sleep promotes concentration and restores energy; it helps to keep your immune system functioning well and to regulate eating patterns.

How does weight loss help control Type 2 diabetes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. My doctor said the best thing I can do right now is to lose weight. Why?

DEAR READER: Type 2 diabetes usually starts after a person becomes an adult. It is by far the most common type of diabetes. It has been clear for many years that people who are overweight are at much greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. In the past 20 years, research discoveries have begun to explain why.

Does standing more really make a difference to your health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Several of my colleagues have switched to standing desks. Does standing really make that much of a difference to your health?

DEAR READER: Research suggests that the more we sit, the more we're likely to develop heart disease and other illnesses, including diabetes and cancer. Whether it's sitting at the computer to get some work done or on the couch watching TV, too many hours spent on our bottoms increases the risk of dying from any cause -- even if you exercise regularly.

What can I do to reduce my risk of getting food poisoning?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am recovering from a painful bout of food poisoning. What can I do to reduce my risk of getting it again?

DEAR READER: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Yuck! Food poisoning is not something you want to repeat if you can avoid it. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk. Food poisoning commonly occurs when food or water is contaminated during improper cooking, handling or storage. The most common contaminants are bacteria, such as salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.

What is Meniere’s disease, and what can be done to treat it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been feeling dizzy and have had a constant ringing in my ears. My doctor has diagnosed me with Meniere's disease. What is this, and what can be done to treat it?

DEAR READER: In Meniere's disease, fluid collects in the inner ear. The inner ear is a complex system that is critical to both hearing and balance. Sound waves hit a membrane (the "eardrum") in the middle ear. The vibrations of the membrane are transmitted to tiny bones in the middle ear, and then to another membrane that starts the inner ear. Inside the inner ear is a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. The cochlea transforms sound waves into nerve impulses that the brain can interpret. That's how we hear.

I’m losing patches of hair, is this normal or do I have alopecia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a man in my 40s, and I've suddenly started to lose patches of hair, but only on certain parts of my head. What's going on?

DEAR READER: What you are describing does not sound like normal baldness, which typically affects a certain part of the head, not patches of hair loss here and there. Instead, it sounds like you could have a condition called alopecia areata. This skin disorder causes hair loss, usually in small round or oval patches, most often on the scalp. The bald patches tend to appear suddenly and affect only a limited area.