DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am concerned about my daughter (age 40). Her doctor tells her she has a thyroid gland that is not working and which is making her fat. At 32, with two children, she weighed 95 pounds and looked 12 years old. In this past year she has gained 20 pounds and looks old. Her doctor gave her thyroid medicine. Will her thyroid problem change or heal or go away? Will there be more for me to worry about? Should she see a special kind of doctor? – P.J.

Your daughter has a common problem, a thyroid gland gone on the fritz. It is not making enough thyroid hormone. The hormone keeps all body functions moving at optimum speed. Without it, body machinery grinds to a slow pace and sometimes to a halt. People feel tired all day long. Muscles become weak, and they might be sore and stiff and develop cramps. Skin dries and roughens. Constipation is often part of the picture. Hypothyroid patients cannot tolerate cold. They often become forgetful, and their thinking can be sluggish. Weight gain without eating increased amounts of food is all but universal.

Usually the thyroid gland slips into the “off” position due to an immune attack on the gland. And usually women are the victims. The reason why is a great unknown.

If there is a nice thing about any illness, the nice thing about hypothyroidism is that treatment is straightforward. It consists in taking thyroid hormone in pill form. Treatment is almost always for life, but it is not the least bit burdensome.

You should be seeing a change in your daughter in short order.

The problem does not go away. But you have nothing more to worry about – as far as your daughter’s thyroid gland goes. The doctor who made the diagnosis is capable of overseeing your daughter’s treatment.

Many people have thyroid gland disorders – either an underactive or an overactive gland. The thyroid gland pamphlet provides the details on these illnesses and their treatments. Readers can order a copy by writing to: Dr. Donohue – No. 401, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This past winter I moved to a place that is 5,000 feet above sea level. I love it here, but I am afraid of the sun, since my father had melanoma. Do I need to use sunscreen in the winter because of the elevation? – G.G.

For every thousand feet of elevation above sea level, the intensity of ultraviolet light (sunlight) increases by 5 percent. A family history of melanoma puts a person at greater risk of coming down with it than is the risk for the rest of the population. You have two good reasons for using sunscreen – even in the winter.

Most sunscreens filter ultraviolet B rays. Ultraviolet A rays are the ones implicated as being a factor in melanoma formation. Sunscreens with a high SPF (sun protection factor) – 30 or above – can screen some ultraviolet A rays. Check the label to make sure the SPF is a high number.

Sunblockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide effectively filter out ultraviolet A rays.

Another way to avoid these ultraviolet rays, at least on your face, is to wear a hat with a wide brim.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are crabs? How do you get them? Is it only through sex? As you might figure out, I had them, and I would like to trace where I picked them up. Medicine took care of the problem, but the memory lingers. – T.R.

Crabs are lice. If you could see one with a magnifying lens, you would understand how they got the name of “crabs.” Their legs look like crab claws.

Pubic lice – crabs – infect the pubic region and pubic hair. Sex is the most common route of transmission; however, they can cling to clothes and bedding, so those too are potential ways to spread infection.

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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