Archive for March, 2012

How are cataracts treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have cataracts. What are my treatment options?

DEAR READER: "Cataract" means "huge waterfall." And that's how some people with cataracts describe their clouded sight -- like trying to look through a waterfall.

What should I know about having a vasectomy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife and I don't want any more children, so I've scheduled a vasectomy. What will happen during the procedure?

DEAR READER: A vasectomy is a minor surgical procedure that will make you unable to father any more children. The sperm that is ejaculated during sex travels through two tubes, one on either side of the scrotum. Each tube is called the vas deferens. A vasectomy cuts or blocks the vas deferens.

What is hypomania?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I like to paint in my free time. Recently I've been staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning to work on my paintings. I know I should feel tired, but I don't. One of my friends said that I might be hypomanic. What is that?

DEAR READER: Hypomania is an elevated mood or energy level -- one higher than your normal state. The decreased need for sleep that you describe is one of the hallmarks of hypomania. Some people who are hypomanic sleep only a few hours a day. But despite this, they say they feel rested from such little sleep.

What causes drug shortages?

DEAR DOCTOR K: It seems like every day in the paper I read about doctors and hospitals running out of medicines because the pharmaceutical companies can't manufacture enough of them. Why are we having these problems?

DEAR READER: You aren't just imagining this; the problem really has gotten worse. There have been shortfalls of common drugs for ADHD, cancer, pain and heart disease. Like other doctors, I'm frustrated. Understandably, our patients are scared. Although drug shortages are not new, they seem to be on the upswing. According to The Associated Press, tracking information from the University of Utah Drug Information Service shows 267 newly reported drug shortages in the United States in 2011, up from just 58 in 2004. Clearly, this is not in the public interest.

Can eating slowly help with weight loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've read many times that eating slowly can help a person eat less and lose weight. I've tried this approach recently, and I do find it helps keep me satisfied, even when eating smaller portions. What is the mechanism behind this — or is it all in my head?

DEAR READER: It's true ... and it is all in your head (and your gut). Let me explain. Why do we get hungry? And when we eat a meal, why at some point do we feel full? Until recently, we had no idea. We knew that appetite must be lodged in the brain. But how does the brain decide to feel hungry, or to feel full?

What is BPA? Is it harmful?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Is the chemical BPA just another health scare? Or is it really something I should be worried about?

DEAR READER: BPA stands for bisphenol A. It is used to make a plastic known as polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is sturdy and resists shattering, so it's a great material for water and baby bottles. BPA is also used to line the inside of cans so the metal of the can doesn't directly touch the food or beverage. It's used in some dental sealants and as an ingredient in the paper on which many receipts are printed. So there's no question that we're exposed to BPA.

What percentage of our brains do we really use?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard it said that we use only 10 percent of our brains, but I'm skeptical. Could it be true that we use only this small percentage of our brain capacity?

DEAR READER: Many parts of our bodies have some extra capacity built in. You can have an entire lung or kidney removed and get along fine with the one that remains. Your body can spare skin and bone marrow. If your appendix, gallbladder or spleen needs to go, so be it — you can live without these organs if you need to.

What are the dangers of tanning?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter went to a tanning bed for the first time last year, before her junior prom. What troubles me is that she never stopped going after that. How bad is tanning for her health?

DEAR READER: There's something about having a tan that makes us feel more attractive, so it's not surprising that tanning salons are popular with teens.

But as healthy as a tan may make you look, it's not healthy. In fact, tanning can be downright dangerous. That's why you should talk to your daughter and urge her to stop now.

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had a heart attack. Now my doctor wants me to start cardiac rehabilitation. Is it dangerous for me to start exercising so soon?

DEAR READER: I understand your concern. Not that long ago, rest was exactly what the doctor ordered after a heart attack. Taking it easy, the thinking went, would help the heart heal more quickly. Now, doctors know that inactivity doesn't help your heart or the rest of your body. Exercise actually strengthens your heart, if you do it correctly. And it helps your muscles use oxygen more efficiently, easing the heart's workload.

What is a “normal” body temperature?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Growing up, I was taught that 98.6 was the standard "normal" body temperature. I think we all learn this as kids. But I find my own personal normal temperature is a bit lower. I hover around 97.9 degrees, even when I feel perfectly fine. Is there really such a thing as one normal body temperature?

DEAR READER: It's a fact still taught to schoolchildren all over the world: Normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees F. More recent studies actually put "normal" a little lower: around 98.2 degrees F. But as with most measurements, "normal" has a range.