Q. Why do we yawn?
There are several theories about the cause of yawning. One of them has begun to gain more advocates. This theory is that we yawn to air-condition our brains.
In a paper published in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses, scientists Gary Hack of the University of Maryland and Andrew Gallup of Princeton University wrote that, during yawning, the sinuses act like bellows to cool off the brain. If you suffer from sinus congestion, you might yawn more.
“Brains, like computers, operate best when they are cool,” the authors said.
Q. My brother-in-law is getting a defibrillator. How is that different from a pacemaker?
An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) and a pacemaker are battery-powered devices installed in the chest to deliver electrical impulses to the heart. In general, a pacemaker is used when the heart beats too slowly; an ICD is used when the heart beats too quickly.
Pacemakers jog the heart with mild reminders that patients usually can’t feel. Pacemakers are small; some are only as big as a quarter.
First of two parts
Q. I may have to have chemotherapy. Will I go bald?
Hair loss is not certain with chemotherapy. Whether you lose hair depends upon the medication and dose your doctor prescribes.
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that uses drugs to kill malignant cells, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Chemotherapy drugs are used to treat cancer, bone marrow diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The drugs can be given by injection or taken orally. There are also topical creams.
Q. Is there any cure for psoriasis?
There’s no cure for psoriasis, but there are many ways to get relief from the symptoms of this troublesome disease.
Psoriasis is one of the most common skin ailments. More than 125 million people throughout the world have psoriasis. The chronic disorder affects people of all ages. Psoriasis seems to be inherited.
Psoriasis causes skin redness and irritation that can appear anywhere on the body. Most people with psoriasis have thick, red skin with flaky, silver-white patches. It is not contagious.
Second of two parts
The difference between normal and abnormal memory difficulties comes down to this:
If you forget a name or where you left your keys, you’re probably OK.
If you can’t remember how to brush your teeth, you need medical attention.
Here are more memory problems that aren’t part of normal aging:
Noticeable deterioration of memory over several months
Repeating stories you told only minutes before, or asking the same questions over and over
Inability to keep track of what you did earlier in the day
First of two parts
Q. How can you tell when you should go to a doctor for memory lapses?
When should you go to your doctor to discuss your memory lapses? That’s a personal judgment call.
I’ve found that I can’t remember the names of movie stars and ballplayers the way I used to. I attribute this to what I call the “overloaded filing cabinet.” As we get older, we accumulate so many memories that it’s impossible to find the one we want.
I’m not sufficiently worried about my memory difficulties to mention them to my doctor. But if you are worried, get tested.
Q. Is erectile dysfunction a possible symptom of heart problems?
Erectile dysfunction (ED), which is inadequate erection for sex, can indicate that something is wrong with your heart. Here’s why:
Blood flowing to the penis creates erections. Plaque buildup narrows and hardens arteries (atherosclerosis), reducing blood flow throughout the body.
The arteries supplying blood to the penis are smaller than those for the heart. So, ED can be an early sign of atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Q. I’ve been getting lots of ear wax lately. Please tell me this has nothing to do with getting older.
I wish I could. Ear-wax problems are just one more indignity seniors have to deal with. I sympathize with your annoyance.
As you age, your eardrums often thicken and the bones of the middle ear and other structures are affected. Hearing sharpness may decline because of changes in the auditory nerve. Impacted ear wax is another cause of trouble hearing and is more common with increasing age.
Q. What causes my old teeth to decay?
Tooth decay and gum disease are caused by plaque, a layer of bacteria. Plaque can build up quickly on the teeth of older people.
In addition, seniors have a greater tendency to get decay around older fillings. And we have more fillings than younger people because we didn’t all grow up with fluoride added to drinking water.
Q. I’ve been on a diet high in proteins and low in carbohydrates for several weeks now and I’ve lost weight. What do you think of this type of diet?
These diets can bring a quick drop in weight because eliminating carbohydrates causes a loss of body fluids.
And, high-protein diets cause substances called “ketones” to be released into the bloodstream. The ketones make dieting easier by lowering appetite.