Archive for May, 2016

Is there any new information on the link between Zika virus and birth defects?

DEAR DOCTOR K: In a recent column, you said that doctors were still conducting research to see if the Zika virus does, as feared, cause birth defects -- particularly, babies born with small heads and brains. Has there been any new information on that?

DEAR READER: There has, and it's important. The new information was summarized in articles in the New England Journal of Medicine in April.

How can I take better care of my children’s teeth?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just took my 4-year old to the dentist, and she has three cavities! How can I better care for her teeth? And what can I do for my infant son so he doesn't end up with cavities, too?

DEAR READER: Our mouths are home to many bacteria. They live there pretty much all of our lives, taking advantage of one convenient fact: When we put food in our mouth, that's food for bacteria, too. And while we have to work to put food in our mouths, they just sit there. Doesn't seem fair.

Could my daily headaches be a sign that something is seriously wrong?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've had a headache every day for at least six months. Painkillers don't help much. I know headaches are common, and I don't like calling my doctor unless it's a serious problem. Should I call him?

DEAR READER: Yes, you should. I imagine you're thinking that because headaches are common, they rarely indicate a serious underlying problem -- like a brain tumor. That's true. I also imagine that you have suffered from headaches for a long time, although you didn't say that. You may think that if you've had the problem a long time, it can't be serious.

What can I do about vaginal pain during intercourse?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my late 50s. Lately, I have vaginal pain every time my husband and I have intercourse. I mentioned this to some friends, and it turns out a few of them also experienced vaginal pain, starting around menopause. What is causing this problem? And what can I do?

DEAR READER: If you're in your late 50s, you probably have gone through menopause. At menopause, levels of the hormone estrogen plummet. This causes the vaginal lining to become thin and produce fewer lubricating secretions, resulting in dryness and irritation. The vagina becomes shorter and less elastic, and the vaginal opening narrows. All of these changes can make intercourse uncomfortable, painful or impossible.

Could magnesium supplements help me fall asleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have trouble falling asleep and melatonin has not worked. I want to avoid medications, and I have read that magnesium supplements can help. Should I try them?

DEAR READER: Magnesium is important for many biological functions, including nerve and muscle function. It may have a role as a preventive treatment for migraine headaches. But there is not strong scientific evidence for its use with insomnia.

Is there any evidence that mobile health apps actually work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: There are so many health-oriented apps for mobile devices these days. But is there any evidence that they actually work?

DEAR READER: The number of health-related apps for mobile devices has exploded in recent years. The most popular ones monitor physical activity. Others deliver helpful reminders or information through text messages. Various apps aim to help you lose weight, monitor your blood pressure, manage your diabetes or quit smoking.

How can I tell if my complaints are a consequence of aging or an actual problem?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Every time I complain about a new medical issue, my husband says, "You're 84. What do you expect?" How do I know if my complaints are just a consequence of aging or if there's an actual problem?

DEAR READER: I'm not 84, but I ask myself that question regularly. You don't have to be a doctor to understand that new symptoms develop as we age. But some changes aren't a normal part of the aging process. I'll discuss some common age-related health changes, as well as changes that suggest there might be a problem.

Do products that claim to boost immunity actually work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I guess everyone wants a strong immune system. But is there anything to the claims of products that advertise that they boost immunity?

DEAR READER: In a word, no. Our immune system does a remarkable job of protecting us from bacteria, viruses and other microbes. That's good, because they can cause disease, suffering, even death. It seems logical to want to give your immune system a boost.