Should my elderly mother switch to a geriatrician?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother has been going to the same doctor for decades. Now that she is 80, should she switch to a geriatrician?

DEAR READER: There's a lot to be said for a doctor-patient relationship that has built trust over the years. Switching to a geriatrician may not be a good idea -- but consulting a geriatrician could be a very good idea. Geriatricians specialize in the health of older adults.

Should I switch to diet soda to help cut down on sugar?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You often advise cutting out sugary soda drinks. Should I switch to diet soda?

DEAR READER: Sugary soda drinks have no place in a healthy diet. Excess sugar leads to weight gain -- and obesity increases the risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. As I always say when giving dietary advice, I'm talking about a regular practice, not an occasional sin. If you like a non-diet (sugary) drink once in a while, enjoy it.

What’s the link between diabetes and heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: When I was diagnosed with diabetes, my doctor said I am now also at increased risk for heart disease. What's the connection?

DEAR READER: The link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease is stronger than many people realize: About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke. I spoke to my colleague Dr. Benjamin Scirica, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, about the link between the two conditions. He explained that diabetes harms the heart in several ways.

Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike if I have sciatica?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have sciatica. Is it safe for me to ride a stationary bike for exercise?

DEAR READER: Sciatica is persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bone chips caused by arthritis, or a herniated ("slipped") disk in the lower spine.

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.