Archive for February, 2015

Do I have Raynaud’s?

DEAR DOCTOR K: When I'm out in the cold, my fingers quickly go from cold to numb and often turn whitish. This goes beyond normal feelings of cold. What could be going on?

DEAR READER: What you're describing -- cold, white (sometimes even bluish), numb fingers -- are the hallmarks of an illness called Raynaud's phenomenon. When I first learned about Raynaud's in medical school, I called it the "almost patriotic" illness. That's because its colors are white, blue and red, in that order: WHITE. When people with Raynaud's go out into cold weather, the first thing that happens is that small arteries in the fingers go into spasm.

How do I switch to a plant-based diet?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm trying to shift to a more plant-based diet and have added more fruits and vegetables to my meals and snacks. What's the next step?

DEAR READER: Congratulations! You've already made some healthy changes to your diet. Evidence continues to mount that a plant-based diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy plant oils -- may help reduce the risk of many health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Adding fresh fruits and vegetables, as you've done, is a great first step. The next step is to incorporate more nuts, seeds and legumes into your meals and snacks.

Is it just fear or an actual phobia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a terrible fear of heights, dogs and public speaking. My sister calls them "phobias" and says I should seek help. How do I know if my fears are normal, or if I need treatment?

DEAR READER: We all have things we worry about or are afraid of. And with most of them, we're right to be fearful. But in people with a phobia, the fear is persistent, excessive and unrealistic. As many as one in 10 people suffer from phobias at some time during their lives.

How can I relieve my knee pain without surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 60s. My knees have started to hurt, especially when I'm climbing stairs. Can you recommend any nonsurgical ways to relieve this pain?

DEAR READER: Knee pain is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. As you get older, knee pain can limit your mobility and take away your independence. The keys to keeping your knees healthy? Strengthening muscles around the knees, improving balance and losing weight.

Can schizophrenia be treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: There is a history of schizophrenia in my family. I'd like to learn more about it. Can it be treated?

DEAR READER: Schizophrenia is a long-lasting psychotic disorder. People with the condition have a hard time recognizing reality, thinking logically and behaving naturally in social situations. Having a parent or sibling with schizophrenia increases your risk of developing it.

How can I prevent tension headaches?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I get tension headaches fairly often. What's the best way to treat and prevent them?

DEAR READER: Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. The pain -- usually a dull tightness or pressure -- may envelop your entire head, or it may strike only your forehead or the back or top of your head. (I've put an illustration showing where tension headaches usually strike below.)

How do I prepare my preschooler for the arrival of a new baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm expecting my second baby in a few months. Everyone's excited except my 2-year-old son. What can I do to help my son look forward to the new arrival?

DEAR READER: Your son has always gotten all the attention -- and he probably assumed that he always would. I was the oldest child. My parents told me (many years later) that I wasn't real excited that a new brother or sister was on the way. I find that hard to believe, of course. It's no wonder that your son is not enthusiastic about a noisy, demanding baby that may steal the spotlight.

Why am I still coughing three weeks after a chest cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had a chest cold. I feel better, but I'm still coughing a lot. This has been going on for more than three weeks. Why am I still coughing?

DEAR READER: Most likely, you had bronchitis, an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is usually caused by an infection -- viral or bacterial. The bronchial tubes are air passages connecting the lungs to the windpipe. Bronchitis usually starts with an upper respiratory illness that spreads from the nose and throat down into the airways.

Is it dangerous to have an energy drink everyday?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have two kids and a high pressure job. I'm always exhausted. Lately, I've been drinking an energy drink in the afternoon to get through the day. My husband thinks this is dangerous. Is he right?

DEAR READER: I'm sure many readers can relate to the mid-afternoon slump. It's no wonder that energy drinks and shots have become the fastest-growing category in the beverage industry. What gives energy drinks their jolt is good old-fashioned caffeine.

Should I have my vitamin D level checked?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've read several articles about the negative effects of a low blood level of vitamin D, but my doctor said I didn't need to have my level checked. Why not?

DEAR READER: Many of my patients are asking me the same question. Vitamin D has been in the news a lot in recent years, but we still don't have solid answers to many questions, including yours. There is strong evidence that people with a low blood level of vitamin D have higher rates of osteoporosis (thin bones).