DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 25-year-old granddaughter has Graves’ disease. This happened to her only two months after her wedding. Her mother told me she is going to have radiation treatments. Does the disease or the radiation affect her fertility? I want to live to see my first great-grandchild. – L.P.

Graves’ disease is a thyroid gland gone out of control. It produces thyroid hormone in such quantities that all body functions speed up. The heart races even when the person is quietly sitting. Hands tremble. Weight melts from the body in the face of a ravenous appetite and extraordinary food intake. Graves’ patients feel warm when those around them feel uncomfortably cool.

A swelling in the lower part of the neck is a sign of thyroid gland enlargement. Eyes often protrude, and many patients look like they are staring in astonishment, with eyelids wide apart and infrequently blinking.

This is another example of an autoimmune disease, one of those ills that come from an attack by the immune system on its own organs and tissues. In this case, the attack is on the thyroid gland, and it takes the form of thyroid gland antibodies, made by the immune system. Those antibodies keep the thyroid gland’s accelerator pressed down to the floor, with the result that thyroid hormone production is huge.

Doctors and patients have three ways of attacking Graves’ disease. One is taking drugs that shut off thyroid hormone production. These drugs work, but the disease can return once the drugs are stopped. Surgical removal of the gland is another way to put an end to the problem. The most popular treatment in North America is radioactive iodine given in capsules. The thyroid gland attracts iodine as strongly as a magnet attracts iron. The radioactivity takes the gland out of commission. It’s like having surgery without a scalpel.

None of these treatments, including the radioactive iodine, affects a woman’s ability to have children. There is no reason why you will not hear yourself being called “Great-grandma.”

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What happens to a person who takes 40 or more aspirin every day? Is this something dangerous? – P.P.

Yes, it’s dangerous.

Aspirin overdose can make the ears ring and can endanger hearing. Aspirin can cause digestive tract bleeding. Too much aspirin upsets the body’s acid-base balance, and that, in turn, upsets a host of body functions. An aspirin overload can harm the liver.

Whoever is doing this should stop immediately. He or she is poisoning him-or herself with aspirin.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 37-year-old mother of four children, and I am raising these children by myself. I weigh more than 250 pounds and am only 5 feet 2 inches tall. I have tried every diet there is, and I often lose weight, but I always gain it back. My parents have offered to pay for the stomach surgery that reduces stomach size. Would you advise me to have this surgery? – A.M.

The surgery does make the stomach a much smaller container, so only small amounts of food fill it, which turns off the desire for food.

Obesity leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

If you have made an effort at weight loss by adhering to a diet prescribed by your doctor, a dietitian or a nutritionist, and if you have combined exercise with dieting but have not achieved results, then I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest this kind of surgery.

It’s not a decision that should be lightly taken. All surgery carries risks and even the possibility of death. Obesity also carries great risks, but here the good from surgery surpasses the bad that might come with it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband is thinking of having a vasectomy, but someone told him it causes men to lose their sex drive. Is this true? We have four children and really do not need any more. – E.T.

It is not true. Neither does a vasectomy increase the odds for cancer or heart disease, two other conditions erroneously blamed on vasectomy.

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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