Archive for June, 2012

Could my food choices be making me tired?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in good health and I've been sleeping well. But I'm tired all the time. Could my food choices be causing this lethargy?

DEAR READER: Most of us experience some mid-afternoon drowsiness — the "3 o'clock slump" or the "4 o'clock fade." But if you feel groggy throughout the day, that could be reason for concern.

When should I call my pediatrician?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How can I tell if my kids' illnesses are serious enough to call the pediatrician?

DEAR READER: Certain situations should be "red flags" to contact the pediatrician: inability to move part of his or her body, worsening or persistent pain, severe bleeding, or second- or third-degree burns. There are plenty of gray areas, of course. You can try to treat these conditions at home. But if the situation worsens, seems unusual, or you're not sure what to do, you can always pick up the phone.

What is Bell’s palsy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had what turned out to be an attack of Bell's palsy. Can you tell me about this condition?

DEAR READER: Bell's palsy is a sudden paralysis involving the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. The nerve becomes inflamed and swollen and stops working properly. All of a sudden, you look in the mirror and see a different face: a drooping mouth, a sagging eyebrow and lower eyelid, and an eye that won't fully close.

What are probiotics?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Lately I've noticed a lot of TV ads for probiotic products, especially yogurt. What do they do? Should I start eating them?

DEAR READER: Our bodies are home to a mix of "good" and "bad" bacteria. Most of them live in our intestines, but there are bacteria flourishing in many parts of our bodies. You can't see them — they're just along for the ride.

What can I do about a recurring Baker’s cyst?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a Baker's cyst in my right knee. It has been drained twice and recurred. Are there any other treatments for it?

DEAR READER: I discussed your question with my colleague, Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson, a bone and joint expert who is the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Women's Health Watch. A Baker's cyst (also called a popliteal cyst) is a fluid-filled sac. It forms in the popliteal space, the hollow at the back of the knee joint.

Can certain foods and beverages cause gout?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Could my diet be triggering my gout? If so, what foods and beverages should I avoid to prevent future episodes?

DEAR READER: Your diet absolutely can trigger attacks of gout. As you know all too well, gout causes redness, swelling and extreme tenderness in one or more joints. Very often the attack occurs in the big toe, and when an attack hits, it really hurts. I know from personal experience: I have gout.

How is hip bursitis treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with hip bursitis. What will my treatment entail?

DEAR READER: Your hip has several fluid-filled sacs, called bursae. They cushion the hip joint. When one of these sacs becomes irritated or inflamed, the condition is known as bursitis. My patients use different words to describe the pain they have from bursitis: aching, burning, dull, sharp and radiating. The type and location of your pain depend on which bursa is affected.

What causes age-related hearing loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 80s and have been progressively losing my hearing. When I asked my doctor what caused my hearing loss, he said it was because my "cochlea died." What did he mean?

DEAR READER: The cochlea is a spiral-shaped structure inside your ear. It contains the hair cells that transmit sound messages to the brain. Sounds are composed of invisible waves. When a sound wave enters your ear, it moves the hairs on the hair cells just as a summer breeze moves the leaves on a tree.

Can soy foods increase the risk of breast cancer?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a breast cancer survivor. Can soy foods such as tofu or soy milk increase my risk of a cancer recurrence?

DEAR READER: I wish I had a simple and reassuring answer. Soy has a complicated relationship with breast cancer. Many breast cancer cells have receptors for estrogens. Receptors are like a lock, and estrogen is like a key. When the key enters the lock, and fits it, breast cancer cells start to multiply.

Should I consider weight-loss surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm obese. I've tried to lose weight, but nothing has worked. Should I consider weight-loss surgery?

DEAR READER: If you are severely obese, your best chance for long-term weight loss and better health may be weight-loss (bariatric) surgery. You have several options. Some types of bariatric surgery shrink the size of your stomach — you fill up sooner. Other types of surgery route the food you've eaten away from your small intestine, the place where nutrients (and their calories) are absorbed.