Archive for March, 2014

How can I help my brother overcome his alcohol addiction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My brother is addicted to alcohol. How can I help him overcome his addiction?

DEAR READER: It is so hard to watch a loved one suffer. And addiction surely causes suffering. In some ways, the suffering from addiction is worse than from other illnesses. One reason is that family members and friends often worry that they might have contributed to the addiction.

How is vaginal dryness treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been bothered by vaginal dryness. Sex is painful. My doctor believes it's vaginal atrophy due to menopause. Can you tell me more about this condition? How is it treated?

DEAR READER: During a woman's reproductive years, the lining of the vagina is kept moist and lubricated in part by female hormones made by the ovaries -- particularly estrogen. With the start of menopause, estrogen levels decline. This often leads to vaginal atrophy: The lining of the vagina becomes thin and dry.

Are there services that can help my older mother remain in her own home?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mother lives alone. She refuses to consider assisted living and insists on remaining in her home. Are there services that can help my mother remain independent in her own home?

DEAR READER: If I were older and alone, I'd be like your mother: I'd want to remain living in my home. We all want to hold on to our independence for as long as possible. Two services can help make this a reality for some people. They are home health care and private duty care.

What can I do to ease the pain from my broken ribs?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently broke a couple of ribs, and the pain is so bad I can hardly move. I can't sleep at night and I can't take a deep breath. I went to the doctor, but he said there isn't much he can do. I was surprised that he didn't even tape up my ribs. Is there anything I can do to help my ribs heal quicker and ease my discomfort?

DEAR READER: I understand why you ask the question. If you've ever fractured a bone, it has probably been put in a plaster cast or a splint. Keeping the broken parts of the bone from moving helps the bone heal and reduces the pain. The pain from a fracture generally occurs when the broken parts of the bone move. You know the old joke: "I'm OK, doc. It only hurts when I move."

How does exercise prevent cardiovascular disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard it many times: Regular exercise helps prevent cardiovascular disease. But how does it do that?

DEAR READER: First, let's define terms, to be sure we're all on the same page. "Cardiovascular disease" (CVD) is a catch-all term. It includes heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), atherosclerosis and heart failure. Regular (not just occasional) exercise improves cardiovascular health in a number of ways:

How does a doctor decide which heart surgery to perform on a patient with multiple blocked arteries?

DEAR DOCTOR K: When a patient has one or more blocked coronary arteries, how does a doctor decide whether to perform an angioplasty or bypass surgery?

DEAR READER: Let me explain how your heart works before I answer your question. Your heart doesn't just pump blood -- it needs blood to survive. Every organ in your body needs a constant energy supply. And every organ is making waste material and needs a "garbage collector" to take the waste away. Both the energy supply and the waste removal come from the blood that constantly runs through every organ.

What is a stent — how does it work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Two friends recently had stents put in. What exactly is a stent? How does it work?

DEAR READER: A stent is a small metal cylinder that opens up a blockage in the arteries. It looks like a miniature chain-link fence rolled into a tube. Stents have helped revolutionize the treatment of the most common form of heart disease, coronary artery disease. To understand how, we'll have to take a few steps back.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How does Type 1 diabetes differ from Type 2 diabetes?

DEAR READER: Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are different diseases, but they share many things in common. Both types of diabetes are marked by elevated levels of blood glucose, or sugar. Type 2 diabetes, though, is much more common than Type 1 diabetes.

How can I cut down the amount of sugar in my diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'd like to cut down on the amount of sugar in my diet. Any suggestions?

DEAR READER: Cutting back on sugar will be good for your health. Not only will it help you manage your weight, it will also help keep heart disease and diabetes at bay. The easiest and quickest way to cut back is to identify the foods and drinks that contribute the most added sugar to your diet. Then limit or eliminate them altogether.

What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm — How is it treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is an abdominal aortic aneurysm? How is it treated?

DEAR READER: An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an abnormal swelling in the aorta, the body's largest artery. It occurs in the part of the aorta between the bottom of the chest and the pelvis. Most aortic aneurysms come from atherosclerosis.