DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I just had my annual exam, and my doctor says everything is good, cholesterol included, except for my triglycerides. Can you please supply some information about them and how to lower them? – H.B.

ANSWER: Triglycerides are fat. The stuff you see around a cut of meat, the greasy strip in bacon, the flab that clings to our bodies and shows increased weight when we step on a scale – all are triglycerides.

They have been a long-neglected contributory cause of artery obstruction, heart attacks and strokes. They prime the liver to produce cholesterol. In fact, triglycerides play a greater role in raising cholesterol numbers than do cholesterol-rich foods. Be happy that your cholesterol has remained normal in the face of elevated triglycerides.

Very high triglyceride readings can inflame the pancreas – pancreatitis, a painful and potentially dangerous condition.

A healthy triglyceride level is one less that 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L). Values greater than 200 (2.3) are high, and those over 500 (5.7) are very high.

Triglycerides can be lowered by weight loss if a person is overweight. Exercise brings down triglycerides, and the reduction is independent of the weight loss that comes from exercise. Abstaining from alcohol drops the triglyceride count. So does reducing the amount of sugar in the diet. Fatty foods, fried foods and shortenings raise the blood triglyceride level. Go easy with those foods.

If doing all of the above fails to lower the triglyceride count, then resorting to medicines would be the next step. Give yourself a few months before taking medicine. It can take a while for triglycerides to drop.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had a hoarse voice for one full month. I call it laryngitis, but I am beginning to wonder if there is more to it than simple laryngitis. I have used steam treatments and have whispered when I am forced to talk. Have you any suggestions for me? – K.I.

There are a number of causes that lead to a hoarse voice. Laryngitis is only one, and it’s usually due to a viral infection of the voice box, the larynx (LAIR-inks). For simple laryngitis, resting the voice usually resolves symptoms in a week or so.

Whispering does not rest the voice. It is harder on the larynx than is normal speech, so stop whispering.

Hydrating the larynx with steam is useful. Increasing the amount of water you drink is another way to keep the voice box and vocal cords moist.

Now comes my suggestion: Get to a doctor. Hoarseness that lasts longer than two or three weeks requires a professional evaluation. Polyps on the vocal cords – the two bands of vibrating tissue that produce sound – are a possibility. Paralysis of the nerve that serves the larynx is another. Reflux of stomach acid – heartburn – can irritate the larynx and produce hoarseness.

The big danger, of course, is cancer. I don’t mean to frighten you, but I do mean to motivate you to have your larynx examined.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had a colon polyp removed. My wife has a nasal polyp, and the doctor is considering removing it. We wonder if these are related. – L.W.

A polyp is a growth arising from a lining. The lining can be in the nose, the sinuses, the stomach, the colon and many other places.

A nasal polyp and a colon polyp are related only because they fit the definition of a polyp. They are quite different in cause and in prognosis.

Nasal polyps frequently occur in people with allergies. They can be a bother, but they do not become cancerous.

If they block the inflow of air, they can be removed, or they can be shrunken with cortisone nasal sprays. Nasal polyps have a tendency to recur.

Colon polyps have a more sinister implication. They can become cancerous. Depending on the size of the colon polyp, it must be removed. Their cause is unknown.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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