DEAR DR. DONOHUE: During a recent annual physical, blood work revealed that I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Further tests showed I was at stage 0. I am a 62-year-old man. The current treatment is monitoring my blood. What can I do to retard the progression of the disease? – C.Z.

Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells. The “cancer” word always evokes terror. That’s not a justified reaction to many cancers, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia – CLL – is such a cancer.

CLL is an illness mostly of people in their 60s and older. Frequently, these people do not feel sick, but the leukemia is discovered quite accidentally, just as yours was. A blood count ordered during a routine checkup discloses a large number of lymphocytes, and the diagnosis is made.

Lymphocytes are one of the five different kinds of white blood cells. They are an integral part of the body’s defenses against infection. Infections, therefore, are a major complication of CLL when it is in advanced stages. In the advanced stages, lymph nodes enlarge, as do the spleen and liver.

Your stage 0 is the stage when the only change is an increase in lymphocyte numbers. Observation is the usual treatment when people are in this phase.

There is nothing you can do to stop progression of your CLL. No vitamin, no mineral, no food and no herb can retard the course of this illness.

Survival of people with CLL lies between two and 20 or more years, and a person with stage 0 disease can usually anticipate a life span of many, many years.

If the disease progresses to more advanced stages, chemotherapy or radiation is instituted.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the difference between atrial fibrillation, which you write about, and ventricular fibrillation, which caused my father’s death? I never see you mention death when discussing atrial fibrillation. – M.H.

Fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm. The heart muscle does not contract. It fibrillates – a word borrowed from Latin and meaning to wriggle like a bowl of gelatin.

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heartbeat disturbances. The atria are the heart’s upper chambers. Fibrillation there can be dangerous because blood sits there and clots. Pieces of the clots break loose and can be carried to the brain, where they can cause a stroke. People with atrial fibrillation are put on blood thinners to prevent clot formation.

Ventricular fibrillation affects the ventricles — the heart’s lower pumping chambers. Fibrillating ventricles cannot pump blood to the body’s vital organs. Death occurs if the abnormal rhythm is not terminated quickly. An electric shock to the heart can often put an end to ventricular fibrillation.

The major heartbeat abnormalities are discussed at length in the pamphlet dealing with that topic. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 107, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In a recent answer to a woman with psoriasis, you mentioned the possible use of creams, ointments and salves. What is the difference between them, and is one better than another? – J.B.

Creams are mixtures of oils and water. They are versatile skin medicines because they are easy to apply almost anywhere on the body, and they are cosmetically acceptable to people.

Ointments are greases with little or no water. They are excellent lubricants. They keep water in the skin. Furthermore, they stay on the skin longer than other forms of skin medicines. Their downside is their greasy feel, and they can be somewhat messy. Ointments penetrate the skin more effectively than other preparations. “Salve” is a synonym for a thick ointment.

Lotions are liquids with medicine either dissolved in them or suspended in them. They are useful when the medicine has to be applied to an area that is hairy, like the scalp. People also like the ease with which they can be applied to any skin surface.

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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