Archive for August, 2012

Should I whiten my teeth at home?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Should I whiten my teeth at home or have my dentist do it?

DEAR READER: If discolored teeth are making you self-conscious, you've got a lot to smile about. The interest in whitening teeth has grown greatly in the past decade, and these days there are many teeth-whitening options -- both at the drugstore and at the dentist's office

How do beta blockers help high blood pressure?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor wants me to take a beta blocker for my high blood pressure. Can you tell me about these drugs?

DEAR READER: Beta blockers are one of the most important classes of drugs invented in the past half-century. In fact, they are so important that their inventor, Sir James Black, was honored with the Nobel Prize. They have saved many lives -- but that doesn't mean they are for everyone, or without possible side effects.

What happens in our bodies when we sleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Why do we need to sleep, and what happens in our bodies while we sleep?

DEAR READER: The honest answer is that we don't know why it is we sleep. We spend about a third of our lives doing it, so nature must have a reason for it. But it's hard to ask nature questions -- or, at least, to get an answer.

What are treatment options for vitiligo?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My dark skin makes my vitiligo very noticeable. Steroid creams haven't helped. I've heard that light therapy might be an option.

DEAR READER: Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes white patches of skin to appear on the body. The patches are more obvious in dark-skinned people. Vitiligo usually appears when people are in their 20s or 30s.

Can a cochlear implant help severe hearing loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have severe hearing loss that hasn't been helped by hearing aids. Could I be a candidate for a cochlear implant?

DEAR READER: You sure could be. Cochlear implants are a relatively new technology; they weren't available when I graduated from medical school. There often were no effective options for people like you with severe hearing loss. Even the most advanced hearing aids didn't help. But since then, more than 200,000 people around the world have been helped by this technology.

Can coenzyme Q10 help with side effects from statins?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 61-year-old man. My doctor wants me to take a statin to lower my cholesterol, but I'm worried about muscle damage. I found a website that claimed coenzyme Q10 would help. Is that right?

DEAR READER: It might be, but coenzyme Q10 has not been well studied. It surely should be: Tens of millions of people take statins in the United States alone. They powerfully lower total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood. More important, they reduce the risk of heart attacks.

What tests should I have for chest pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have recently developed chest pain when I exercise. My doctor wants me to have a nuclear stress test to check my arteries for blockages. I would like to limit my exposure to radiation. Are there other tests that could be done instead?

DEAR READER: There are many causes of chest pain besides heart disease. Clearly, however, your doctor is concerned that you may have coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis causing blockages in the arteries of your heart), with the accompanying chest pain called angina.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with dry AMD. I'd like to learn more about the condition.

DEAR READER: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that strikes at the macula, a small part of the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision. People with AMD often develop blurred or distorted vision.