Archive for May, 2012

What is Graves’ disease and how is it treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My best friend was just diagnosed with Graves' disease. I'd like to understand the condition and what her treatment will entail.

DEAR READER: Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that can affect the thyroid gland, eyes and skin. In almost all cases, it causes the thyroid gland to be overactive. The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck, close to the Adam's apple. It produces hormones that control how our bodies use energy.

Is fructose bad for you?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep hearing about how bad fructose and high-fructose corn syrup are for my health. But is fructose really worse than other types of sugar?

DEAR READER: The short answer is yes. I'm not an expert on sugar metabolism, but I'll tell you what the experts at Harvard Medical School tell me. Fructose and glucose are the most abundant sugars in our diet. Such sugars are a source of energy for our cells.

How can I treat sciatica and prevent it from recurring?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My sciatica is so bad I can barely walk. Please help.

DEAR READER: Sciatica is a particular kind of low back pain. It's a persistent aching or burning pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the spine in your lower back, down through the buttock and into your lower leg. You feel pain (and perhaps numbness or weakness) because your sciatic nerve is compressed or injured.

How can I treat toenail fungus?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My big toenail has become thick and yellow and has started to separate from the nail bed. It also smells unpleasant. What's wrong with my toenail, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Based on your description, I suspect you have a fungal toenail infection. You may have picked it up in a damp area with heavy foot traffic -- a swimming pool or gym, perhaps.

How can I control bowel incontinence?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Sometimes my bowel movement leaks onto my undergarments. What can I do to control this?

DEAR READER: Take heart — you are not alone. Depending on how fecal, or bowel, incontinence is defined, some studies have found that 10 percent or more of adults in the United States (not including people living in institutions) have this condition. And there are many things you can do to prevent it.

What is a MRSA infection and how can I prevent it?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had a skin infection caused by MRSA. I must have picked this up at my mother's nursing home. How can I avoid another MRSA infection, as I hear they can be serious?

DEAR READER: MRSA is short for "methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus." Staph aureus is a bacteria. These bacteria are all around us. They live on our skin -- and if they get under the skin and multiply, they can cause a skin infection like the one you had. But if staph bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause serious and potentially fatal infections.

Is snacking healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I never thought snacking could be part of a healthy diet. Am I wrong? Can you give me suggestions for healthy snacking?

DEAR READER: Snacking is not automatically unhealthy. In fact, it can be very healthy — but you have to choose the right foods and eat them in the right amounts. Plenty of healthy foods are quick and easy to eat. Fruits, veggie sticks and moderate amounts of nuts are all good choices. But even healthy snacks can be unhealthful if you eat too much. Try to keep snacks to around 150 calories.

How do I treat my child’s head lice?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter was sent home from school with head lice. I'm embarrassed and worried. What should I do?

DEAR READER: Don't be embarrassed. Head lice are not caused by poor hygiene or housekeeping. They simply are out there in the environment, like termites, which can affect even the cleanest homes. Head lice are small insects that infest the hair on people's heads. When they bite the skin to feed on a person's blood, their saliva gets into the bite. The person's immune system reacts against the foreign saliva. This causes a lot of itching.

Are artificial sweeteners a good alternative to sugar?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm trying to lose weight, so I've switched to artificial sweeteners. But are they really a good alternative to sugar?

DEAR READER: Sugar may be the most important dietary cause of obesity in America today. When you consume it as part of a whole food, such as fruit, it's digested along with other nutrients. These nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants, help control sugar's effect in your body.

Can lifestyle changes help with erectile dysfunction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a man in my mid-60s. Lately I've been unable to perform sexually. Are there non-drug strategies I can try before turning to medication?

DEAR READER: Even if you'd prefer to handle this drug-free, start with a trip to your doctor. There may be a straightforward explanation for your erectile dysfunction (ED), such as a side effect of medication. If this is the case, maybe the drug can be discontinued or a new one substituted that is less likely to produce ED.