Can chronic pancreatitis be caused by drinking alcohol?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor has diagnosed me with chronic pancreatitis. Could this be related to my drinking? Can this condition be reversed?

DEAR READER: Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the large gland that lies behind the stomach. Most cases of chronic pancreatitis are caused by long-term overuse of alcohol. Alcohol can bring on acute, or sudden, inflammation of the pancreas. If you keep drinking too much, you often get repeated attacks of acute pancreatitis.

Why take NSAIDs for osteoarthritis pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have osteoarthritis. My doctor recommends NSAIDs over acetaminophen for pain relief. Why? What is the advantage?

DEAR READER: The answer to your question lies in the type of damage osteoarthritis inflicts. Osteoarthritis results from the deterioration of cartilage, the tough, flexible tissue that covers the ends of your bones at every joint in your body. The cartilage is a cushion that keeps one bone from grinding against another bone.

What can I do about a painful “trigger finger”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful trigger finger on my left hand. What caused it, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: The term "trigger finger" may conjure up visions of sharpshooters and hunters -- people who sometimes are too quick to draw their guns. To doctors, however, "trigger finger" refers to a condition that occurs when the finger briefly locks and then suddenly releases as you try to bend or straighten it. This often causes a snapping sound.

What is laparoscopic surgery?

EAR DOCTOR K: I need to have surgery in my abdominal area. My surgeon said he can do it "laparoscopically." What does that mean?

DEAR READER: It is good news. It means that the surgery you'll have will involve cutting through less tissue, and it will be easier to recover. Forty years ago, abdominal surgery would have required a relatively large incision. The surgeon had no way of looking at your insides and seeing what needed to be fixed or cut out.

What can I expect when my son goes through puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What can I expect when my son goes through puberty?

DEAR READER: I'm tempted to reply: "You don't want to know." Then again, you wrote me expecting an answer, so here goes. There are hormonal changes during puberty. In addition, the brain still is growing and developing; it is not yet the adult brain. There are things the adult brain does that the adolescent brain often does not do -- like think twice before doing something.

What is vascular dementia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is vascular dementia? Can it be prevented?

DEAR READER: The term "dementia" describes a serious impairment of mental function. It may include memory loss, confusion, personality changes and the dwindling ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. The second most common is vascular dementia.

What does antibiotic resistance mean for the future?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been hearing a lot about "antibiotic resistance." What does it mean?

DEAR READER: When penicillin was discovered, many people (including doctors) thought bacterial infections would become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, penicillin and other early antibiotics didn't successfully treat all kinds of bacteria that make us sick.

How do I lose weight without a supportive spouse?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've gained several pounds since getting married. My husband thinks he is supportive of my weight-loss efforts, but he doesn't exercise or make healthy food choices himself. How can I lose weight without my husband's support?

DEAR READER: Each of us is the person most responsible for living a healthy lifestyle. But we're not islands when it comes to our weight, and family and friends can profoundly influence what we do. That's the message in the important new book "Thinfluence," written by my Harvard colleagues Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Malissa Wood, with Dan Childs.

Do I need to take a multivitamin supplement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy 50-year-old woman. Do I need to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement?

DEAR READER: Following the news on supplements is like watching a pingpong match. One study finds supplements improve health, then another study questions their benefit. Back and forth they go. One recommendation about vitamin supplements is not in dispute: Women of childbearing age should take folic acid supplements.

I strained my hip flexor — how can I relieve the pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've strained a muscle where my hip meets my pelvis. What can I do to relieve the discomfort?

DEAR READER: It sounds like you've strained your hip flexor. That's a group of muscles that runs from your lower back to the front of your thigh. These muscles help flex your hip when you lift your leg to the front. A hip flexor strain can lead to pain where your thigh meets your pelvis, as well as pain or pinching when you pull your knee to your chest or when you climb stairs.