Archive for October, 2011

Is moderate drinking healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time. Now I hear it may actually be good for my heart health. How can I enjoy regular drinking without it becoming a harmful habit?

DEAR READER: What you've heard is true. Study after study has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with good health. But -- and it's an important "but" -- alcohol is healthful only if you drink moderately and don't go overboard. A little may be better than none, and also better than more.

Perfectionism is a two-edged sword

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always been a bit of a perfectionist—perhaps more than a bit. This trait helps me in many ways, but sometimes it causes me stress. I wonder if it might have a downside. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons?

DEAR READER: There are definitely pros and cons to perfectionism. Also, keep in mind that the world isn't neatly divided into perfectionists and non-perfectionists: There's a little perfectionism in a lot of people. There surely is in me. (At least, that's what some people say.)

Tremors aren’t always a sign of Parkinson’s

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother's hands are shaking more than usual lately. She has made an appointment with her doctor, but in the meantime, can you tell me if shaking is always a sign of something serious like Parkinson's disease?

DEAR READER: The shaking in your mother's hands is called a tremor. Tremors can affect the hands, limbs, head or voice. The actress Katherine Hepburn developed tremors of her head and voice in her later years. A person can't control a tremor.

Serious sleep disorders best treated by specialists

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always been very active in my sleep. I used to tell people I was a sleepwalker, but it's really much more involved than that. I often act out my dreams, and recently I threw a lamp across my bedroom, because I dreamed I was pitching a baseball. Have you heard of a problem like this before?

DEAR READER: If you are acting out your dreams, I'd say it's very likely that you have a condition called REM Behavior Disorder. The type of sleep disturbances you describe certainly fit the bill.

Several treatments can relieve hammertoe pain

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am a 57-year-old woman with hammertoes, which can make walking or standing painful. The worst part is that I like to walk for exercise, so this problem is cutting into my health regimen. What's the best way to deal with this problem?

DEAR READER: Ah, the toes. They're a small part of our bodies, but crucial to keeping our balance and walking or running well. And as you now know, woes with your toes—and hammertoes are among the most common -- can take away the simple pleasure of walking.

Talk to your teens about the dangers of bath salts

DEAR DOCTOR K: I heard a news story about people using bath salts to get high. Can you explain how this is possible? Should my husband and I talk to our two teenagers about this?

DEAR READER: I can see why you'd be confused. I was, too, the first time I heard about "bath salts" being used as a recreational drug. But the bath salts you've heard about have nothing to do with soaking in a tub. These so-called bath salts are sold at "head shops" where drug paraphernalia is sold. They are also sold at some convenience stores and gas stations and on the Internet.

Is running bad for your joints?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am in my mid-30s and like to run for exercise. The problem is that I have creaky knees. I haven't experienced pain yet, but my husband thinks I'm wearing my knees out and that I'll give myself arthritis. Is this possible? Should I give up on vigorous exercise?

DEAR READER: A lot of people — like your husband and like my father — think that our joints are like car tires. Which is to say, they believe using them wears them out, and the more you use them, the faster they'll need to be replaced. While this may be true for tires, the same cannot be said for your joints.

What causes the feeling of a “lump in the throat”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I often get the feeling that there's a lump in my throat. Sometimes in the morning I'll cough up mucus, but it doesn't make the feeling go away. What can I do to get rid of this feeling?

DEAR READER: Some use the expression "a lump in my throat" to describe experiencing a strong emotion such as grief or gratitude. But, as you've discovered, this feeling can be an annoying and recurrent problem that has nothing to do with how you're feeling at the moment.

Battle to quit smoking is fought on many fronts

DEAR DOCTOR K: At a recent medical visit for my heart condition, my doctor urged me again to quit smoking. At 70, I've quit repeatedly without lasting success. I've tried the patch. I've tried medicine. Neither has worked. Support groups aren't for me. Being told over and over that I need to quit smoking just leaves me feeling depressed and weak. Can you offer me any hope?

DEAR READER: Yes, absolutely! The fact that you've tried so hard to quit smoking is a good sign: Wanting to quit is the necessary first step. I know you feel discouraged right now. I've had many patients in exactly your situation who have successfully become ex-smokers. That's why I'm going to encourage you to try again.

Do reading glasses make eyesight worse?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am starting to have trouble with my vision, especially when I'm reading. I just can't seem to focus on the words as well as I once did. But I've heard that wearing glasses to help me read will make my eyesight worse. Is that true?

DEAR READER: You can rest easy. Glasses won't make your eyesight worse. They will make it easier for you to enjoy reading, though. Many people start having trouble reading in their mid-40s. That's because of a condition called presbyopia, in which the lens of the eye has more trouble focusing on things.