Are the new dietary guidelines good for heart health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Will the new dietary guidelines help keep my heart healthy?

DEAR READER: In late 2015, the U.S. government issued a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report helps Americans make healthy food choices. But if you're concerned about having a heart attack or stroke, the advice in the latest update doesn't entirely agree with what many nutrition experts -- as well as the American Heart Association (AHA) -- recommend.

Am I in perimenopause?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am in my early 40s. Over the past several months, my periods have become less regular. Sometimes my flow is lighter than normal; other times it's heavier. Is this perimenopause?

DEAR READER: It could be, though you're a bit young. As a woman approaches menopause, periods often become irregular. A woman is said to be in menopause after she has gone for one full year without periods. The transition into menopause is called perimenopause. This phase begins when a woman notices changes in her cycle, usually in her mid-40s. It ends with menopause. Perimenopause usually lasts three to five years -- but it can take as few as two years or as many as eight years for some women.

Are ADHD medications safe and effective?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter has ADHD. I have heard conflicting reports about ADHD medication for kids. Please tell me, is it safe and does it work?

DEAR READER: ADHD stands for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and are impulsive and hyperactive. These symptoms can get in their way and make it harder for them to function at school and at home. ADHD also interferes with a child's ability to form and keep friendships.

Should I be monitoring my blood pressure at home?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have hypertension and am on treatment. When my doctor checks the pressure, he says I'm doing "OK." Should I be monitoring my blood pressure at home?

DEAR READER: You should definitely talk to your doctor about that. Home blood pressure monitors are easy and inexpensive, and provide you and your doctor with the information you need to protect your health.

Should I be worried about side effects from long-term use of SSRIs?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm nearing 60, and I've been on SSRI medicines for nearly 30 years, for depression. They work for me, but should I be worried about side effects from using them for so long?

DEAR READER: You've asked an important question -- one that should be asked of any medicine used for many months or years. All medicines can have side effects, and SSRIs are no exception. And some medicines can have side effects that become apparent only after long-term use.

How does physical exercise improve brain health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You say that physical exercise helps to improve brain health, but it's not obvious to me how that could be. Do researchers understand exactly how exercise helps the brain?

DEAR READER: I understand why that's puzzling. It's easier to see how regular moderate exercise could protect against heart disease, for example. The heart is a muscle, and exercise makes the heart exercise.

What is the most effective way to get rid of spider veins?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have developed many small, thin veins on my legs. I would like to get rid of them. What is the most effective treatment?

DEAR READER: Superficial leg veins, sometimes called "spider veins," occur when tiny veins appear just below the surface of the skin, causing red, blue or purple discolorations. Spider veins get their name from the shape of the discolorations. Some cases of spider veins can be quite small; others are more noticeable. They may make you feel self-conscious, but they are harmless. (I've put an illustration of spider veins on my website, AskDoctorK.com.)

Did cancer treatment increase my heart disease risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I survived cancer, only to be told that the treatments that saved my life may have increased my risk for cardiovascular disease. What are the risks? And can I minimize them?

DEAR READER: As more people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, more people are coping with the long-term effects of cancer treatment. Many cancer-suppressing treatments can have undesirable effects, for example, on the heart and blood vessels.

Are heart palpitations dangerous?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I often experience heart palpitations -- almost every time I'm excited, angry or scared. Is this dangerous to my health?

DEAR READER: The word "palpitations" is used differently by different people. To me, palpitations are simply an awareness of your heart beating. People aren't usually aware of their heart beating. But when it beats unusually forcefully, irregularly or rapidly, you notice the heartbeat.

Why does my stomach make growling noises?

DEAR DOCTOR K: As I get older, it seems my stomach is more likely to make growling noises. Why does it do this, and what can I do about it? It's embarrassing.

DEAR READER: Maybe your stomach is trying to talk to my stomach. My stomach is periodically trying to talk to someone, that's for sure.