What should I look for in a healthy cereal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I love to eat cereal for breakfast, but I've heard that many cereals aren't all that healthy. What should I look for in a healthy cereal?

DEAR READER: Walk into any grocery store and you'll see shelves packed full of breakfast cereals all touting important health benefits. Labels and marketing promises on boxes can be confusing -- and sometimes misleading. I spoke with Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. She recommends reading ingredient lists carefully and choosing cereals that meet the following criteria:

What is flexible flatfoot, and does it need to be treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: At my son's 12-year well-child visit, his doctor said that he may have flexible flatfeet. What does that mean? Is it something that needs to be treated?

DEAR READER: A person is said to be flat-footed when the foot loses the gently curving arch on the inner side of the sole. That's why flatfeet sometimes are called "fallen arches." If the arch is flattened only when standing and returns when the foot is lifted off the ground, the condition is called flexible flatfoot. If the arch is never present, the condition is called rigid flatfoot. (I've put an illustration of flatfoot, below.) How can parents tell if they or their child have flatfeet?

Why should I use mind-body therapies for my chronic pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from chronic pain. My doctor suggested that I look into mind-body therapies. Why? Is it possible to think your way out of pain?

DEAR READER: I wouldn't describe mind-body therapies as "thinking your way out" of any kind of suffering. But mind-body therapies surely can help reduce chronic suffering, including chronic pain. Pain signals sent up the nerves from your body register in pain centers deep inside your brain. But signals from those pain centers then are processed by the "thinking part" of your brain. That part, in turn, is affected by your emotions, which come from a different part of your brain.

How can varicose veins symptoms be treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have varicose veins. For a while, they were just unsightly. But recently, my leg has started to ache. What does treatment involve?

DEAR READER: Varicose veins occur when veins that lie just below the skin's surface become swollen with too much blood. They usually form in the legs and appear blue, swollen, kinked or twisted. Veins return blood back to the heart. When you use the leg muscles to walk or run, they also help pump blood up toward your heart. When blood moves upward toward the heart, gravity is pulling the blood downward away from your heart. (That's not true, of course, if you're lying flat, or standing on your head.) To offset the pull of gravity, our veins have multiple little valves inside of them. These valves open when blood is pushed up toward the heart. But they close when blood is pulled downward by gravity, stopping the downward flow.

What should I look for when I examine my skin for melanoma?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My aunt developed the skin cancer called melanoma, and I hear that this cancer can run in families. What should I look for when I examine my skin for melanoma?

DEAR READER: Skin cancers are the most common cancers in the United States, and skin checks are an important way to identify them. You asked about the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma. My Harvard Medical School colleague, dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Arndt, says that more than half of melanomas are identified by patients, either alone or with the help of a partner. That's important because more than 90 percent of cases can be cured with early detection and treatment. Skin carries out many functions that help maintain health. It forms a defensive barrier, protecting inner organs from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.

How does my diet and stress level affect my baby’s health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband and I are planning on having our first baby. I've been told that what I eat, and how much stress I have while I'm carrying the baby, could affect the baby's health decades later. That seems hard to believe. Is there any truth to it?

DEAR READER: It makes sense that a child's nutrition and exercise during childhood might affect the child's health as an adult. But it's harder to imagine that your behavior and your health while you are pregnant could affect your child's health for decades to come. But over the past 35 years, many studies have found that a mother's diet and stress levels can shape her child's health in middle age.

How strep throat is diagnosed.

DEAR READERS: In yesterday's column, I responded to a reader's question about acute pharyngitis -- inflammation of the throat caused by infection with bacteria or viruses. I was taught that diagnosing and treating a patient with a sore throat was not complicated: The sore throat was caused either by Group A streptococcus ("strep," a kind of bacteria) or by a virus. If a throat culture showed strep, you treated it with penicillin. Simple. But in my view (some colleagues disagree), it's not that simple. The risk from an untreated infection with Group A strep is much lower today in the United States than it was 70 years ago. That means that the value of treatment is reduced. But the chance of side effects from the treatment -- antibiotics -- is not reduced.

What is acute pharyngitis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I saw my doctor last week, who said I had acute pharyngitis but didn't say what that was. It sounds serious. What is it?

DEAR READER: Good news: It's rarely serious. I know the word "acute" in front of any medical term makes it sound serious. And I know that Latin-based words like "pharyngitis" sound alien. But acute pharyngitis simply means that your throat has become inflamed by something, usually an infection.

Are there any effective treatments for Peyronie’s disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have Peyronie's disease. Are there any effective treatments for this condition?

DEAR READER: Peyronie's disease is, fortunately, relatively uncommon. About 5 percent of men in the United States may have it. The condition affects the penis. It causes inflammation and then scar tissue to form in the area of inflammation. The scar tissue accumulates and hardens, causing the penis to bend when it becomes erect, and potentially keeping it from becoming fully erect. This can make sexual intercourse difficult and painful. (I've put an illustration, below, showing the effect of Peyronie's disease.)

Can you explain what Sjogren’s sydrome is?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have Sjogren's syndrome. People tend to dismiss it as a problem with dry eyes, but it's so much more than that. Can you please describe this condition for your readers?

DEAR READER: Sjogren's (pronounced "show grins") syndrome is a lifelong condition. It does tend to be best known for causing dry eyes, but it can cause other problems as well. For example, Sjogren's syndrome can produce dry mouth and affect any of the body's glands, including those that secrete sweat, saliva and oil. About half of people with Sjogren's syndrome also have another connective-tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Named after Swedish eye doctor Dr. Henrik Sjogren, this syndrome affects people of all ages and races. However, 90 percent of all cases involve women, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 55.