DEAR READERS: Elton John sang that "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," but for me the hardest word is "Goodbye."
DEAR DOCTOR K: For years I've been taking a PPI twice a day for heartburn. My doctor wants me to cut back, or stop altogether. But the idea frightens me. Do you think it's possible?
DEAR READER: To anyone tormented by frequent heartburn, not taking your daily tablet -- or tablets -- of omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid) might seem like a scary idea. These and similar drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are the foundation of treatment for heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
DEAR DOCTOR K: I hear and read so much advice about skin care, and I don't know what's true and what's not. Can you address some common myths about skin care?
DEAR READER: You're right to be skeptical. My patients often tell me that they've heard about a way to keep their skin clear and healthy, and often it is simply not true. I'll debunk some of the most common myths I hear.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I heard about a new home test that detects colon cancer. Is it a good alternative to colonoscopy?
DEAR READER: The new test appears to be an advance, but I don't think it's as good as colonoscopy. Particularly for people who are at higher risk for colon cancer, I regard colonoscopy as the best test.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have rheumatoid arthritis. Can you explain what is happening in my body to cause such uncomfortable symptoms?
DEAR READER: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) disease. It causes painful and sometimes disabling inflammation of the joints. RA can also affect other tissues in the body, such as the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels.
DEAR DOCTOR K: Eat right. Don't smoke. Stay active. Can you give me some motivation to keep up these healthy behaviors?
DEAR READER: I think I get your message. This column frequently presents information from scientific studies about healthy lifestyle. But information alone may not be enough to change behavior -- and it's hard to change behavior, particularly when you enjoy it. Information doesn't equal motivation.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have allergies, and my eyes are affected the most. They're puffy, red and itchy. What can I do?
DEAR READER: Pollens, animal dander, dust mites and mold: The same allergens that cause sneezing and an itchy nose and throat can trigger allergy symptoms that affect your eyes, too. If your eyes are red and itchy, you may also have tearing, mucous discharge and swelling of your conjunctiva (the inside of your eyelid). This constellation of symptoms is known as allergic conjunctivitis. It can be uncomfortable, but it is not a threat to vision.
DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about e-cigarettes not being safe for teens. What about hookahs? I don't completely understand what they are. Are they OK for my teen? I think he might be smoking them.
DEAR READER: A hookah is a water pipe that people use to smoke a specially made tobacco. Often the tobacco used in hookahs is flavored, which makes smoking it more attractive to some people.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother was diagnosed with cancer and will soon begin chemotherapy. I'd like to understand how chemotherapy is given, and how it fights cancer.
DEAR READER: Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill cancerous cells, but only injure healthy cells. To understand chemotherapy, you need to understand what cancer is and what is different about cancer cells.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor never recommended statins to me, but he says there are new guidelines, and thinks that I should now start taking one. What do you think of the new statin guidelines?
DEAR READER: The new guidelines make a lot of sense, because we've learned that statins have more effects on the body than just lowering cholesterol.