Archive for May, 2013

Is it safe to take heartburn medication on a long-term basis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been taking Prilosec for years to prevent heartburn. My wife doesn't think it's safe to take any drug for that long. What do you think?

DEAR READER: I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating: No drug is 100 percent safe. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't take one if you need it. But you should continually weigh the risks and benefits.

I have high systolic, but normal diastolic blood pressure. Do I need treatment?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 71 years old. My systolic blood pressure is usually in the 150s to 160s, which is high. But my diastolic blood pressure is usually in the 70s, which is normal. Do I need treatment?

DEAR READER: A blood pressure measurement includes two numbers: systolic pressure (the upper number) and diastolic pressure (the lower number). Your systolic pressure is high: 140 mmHg or over is high. And your lower number is normal: normal diastolic pressure is below 80 mmHg. When your systolic blood pressure is high and your diastolic blood pressure is low, it's called isolated systolic hypertension (ISH).

Is a CPAP machine the only treatment option for my sleep apnea?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have sleep apnea. My doctor has urged me to use a CPAP machine, but it's too uncomfortable. Are there other options?

DEAR READER: Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops or becomes shallower many times each night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your upper airway collapses or gets blocked during sleep. These airway obstructions starve your brain of oxygen and stress your cardiovascular system. Untreated sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and premature death.

Should I take extra folic acid to boost my immune system?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy woman in my 40s. Should I take extra folic acid to boost my immune system?

DEAR READER: Folic acid is, essentially, a vitamin. We all need vitamins. Indeed, the word "vitamin" was coined to refer to a substance that was essential to human life. The natural form of folic acid, folate, occurs in some foods, including vegetables, fruits, and dried beans and peas.

I’m in my 50s — could my unhealthy eating patterns be an eating disorder?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a woman in my 50s. Ever since my divorce last year, I've developed an unhealthy pattern of eating and purging. A friend suggested I might have an eating disorder. Could she be right?

DEAR READER: I understand why you ask the question, as most people think of eating disorders as a teenager's disease. But eating disorders also affect middle-aged and older women, and even some men.

Can stapedectomy surgery reverse my hearing loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been gradually losing my hearing. My doctor says he can restore my hearing with a procedure called stapedectomy. Can you tell me about it?

DEAR READER: To answer your question, I need to explain how you hear. It is an amazing process. Sound travels in waves through the air into your ear canal. Inside the ear canal, the sound waves are amplified. The waves strike your eardrum. The eardrum is a thin membrane, similar to the wall of a balloon.

What do the new concussion guidelines mean for my high-school football player?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a teenage son who plays high school football, so I'm interested in the new concussion guidelines. Can you tell me what they say?

DEAR READER: In March of this year, the American Academy of Neurology released new guidelines for recognizing and managing sport-related concussions. These guidelines could help protect the brains of athletes at all levels of play, from professional football to youth soccer. In a phrase, the new concussion guidelines recommend "when in doubt, sit it out."

What could be causing my chronic headaches?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've had a headache every day for six months, despite taking painkillers every day. What could be causing the headaches? And what can I do to stop them?

DEAR READER: Most people who suffer from frequent headaches don't have them every day. If your headaches have literally been with you "every day for six months," and this is something new for you, consult your doctor. While your headaches still could be one of the two most common causes of headaches -- migraine headaches or tension headaches -- they also could point to something more serious.

I’ve been falling asleep suddenly during the day — what could be causing this?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 40 years old and in good health. But lately I've been falling asleep suddenly during the day. What could be causing this?

DEAR READER: There are many things that can cause a person to fall asleep suddenly. Your sudden bouts of sleep might be caused by a rapid drop in your blood sugar, a side effect of a medication you're taking, or could result from stress, depression or inadequate sleep at night. Another possibility is narcolepsy.