Archive for November, 2011

What is a bone density test?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just turned 65. At my last medical visit, my doctor said she'd like me to get a bone density test. What is it, and what's involved?

DEAR READER: A bone density test uses specialized X-rays to measure the thickness and strength of your bones. It is also called bone densitometry or a DXA scan. Why measure the thickness of your bones? Adults, particularly women, begin to lose bone thickness around age 50. Thinner bones put you at greater risk for fracture. Besides being painful at the time, fractures (particularly hip fractures) can affect your ability to do the things you want to do.

How can I lower my triglyceride levels?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have healthy cholesterol levels, but my triglyceride level is high. What are triglycerides? And how dangerous is it to have high levels of them?

DEAR READER: Triglycerides are a type of fat. They are important because they provide energy the body needs. Our bodies convert food we eat into triglycerides. They get bundled together into small packages and travel in the blood.

What causes yawning, and why do yawns seem contagious?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been yawning a lot lately, and it got me thinking about what causes this phenomenon. Does anyone know why we yawn, and do you have any idea why yawns seem to be contagious?

DEAR READER: Most people yawn several times per day, sometimes without even noticing it. In fact, almost all vertebrate animals yawn up to 10 times per hour, by some estimates. Yawning is most common in the early morning and late evening. What do these yawns mean?

How can I remedy a plugged ear?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My left ear often gets plugged up. I cough, clear my throat, close my nostrils and blow. Nothing helps. I don't like to bother my doctor with what seems like a silly problem, but it's really annoying.

DEAR READER: I tell my patients that any problem, no matter how small, is worth a call to my office if it affects their quality of life. So I encourage you to give your doctor a call.

Is coconut oil healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Until recently, I had never noticed coconut oil in the grocery store. Now it seems I can't avoid it. Is it true that it's better for you than other cooking oils?

DEAR READER: Most plant oils are full of "good" fats -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats -- and contain relatively few "bad" fats, particularly saturated fats. Plant oils such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and safflower oil are all definitely better for you than other sources of fat, such as butter, hard margarine and lard.

How often should I wash my face?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I wash my face very little because I've heard that soaps, even mild ones, dry out the skin. What do you think?

DEAR READER: Most facial skin is quite sturdy. It has many pores and heals quickly. But as you get older, you start to see the effects on your face of chronic exposure to the environment. The skin thins and becomes less elastic. It develops more pores, fine lines and wrinkles, and more prominent freckles.

What causes under-eye puffiness?

DEAR DOCTOR K: As I get older, I'm noticing unwelcome changes to my appearance. Lately the problem that's bothering me most is bags and puffiness around my eyes. What's causing this, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: It's said that old age isn't for sissies, and it's true: Of the many age-related changes we go through, changes to the face can be the hardest to accept. I know, because like you, I also look in the mirror every morning.

How can I make my teeth whiter?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'd like to have whiter teeth. But no matter what I try, including whitening toothpaste and other drugstore treatments, I can't get the brightness I want. Can professional treatments help?

DEAR READER: There are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to our teeth. One of the most common is that all stains and discolorations can be easily whitened or cleaned away. Sometimes they can, but it depends on what's causing your tooth discoloration. Sometimes even professional procedures can't make your teeth sparkling white.

How can I stop excessive burping?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I burp -- a lot. Why do I burp more than other people? And what can I do to stop it?

DEAR READER: My patients frequently complain about burping. Of course, everybody burps, and with good reason. Belching is a protective mechanism. It prevents the stomach from overinflating. So you need to be able to burp. But if it happens more than you think it should, and it's clearly making you uncomfortable, that's a problem.

Inadequate cells on pap test aren’t always cause for alarm

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 48 years old. Twenty-six years ago, I had a cone biopsy after an abnormal Pap test. Since then, all my Pap tests have been normal. But recently my doctor says that scar tissue from my biopsy has made it difficult to get adequate cells. What do I do about Pap smears now?

DEAR READER: A Pap test is done to catch a cancer of the cervix that is just beginning to start -- and can be cured before it causes damage. Every type of cancer begins with a single cell. The cell starts to multiply uncontrollably. As it starts to do that, the cell changes its shape. Under the microscope, you can tell the precancerous and cancerous cells.