DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My daughter, who is 59 years old, has been gaining weight (40 pounds). Much money, missed work, many tests and specialists have not helped her. Six weeks ago, she was told she has Hashimoto’s disease, but nothing can be done for this very rare illness. Do you have any information on it? – H.M.

f an audience were in front of me and I asked if anyone had heard of Hashimoto’s disease, not a hand would be raised. Yet it is a common condition and is the leading cause of hypothyroidism, a thyroid gland that has stopped making thyroid hormone. About one in every 250 women has or will have it. It happens to men too, but not as frequently. It’s a treatable condition.

The body’s immune system, for unknown reasons, declares war on the thyroid gland. As time goes by, fewer and fewer thyroid gland cells are left to make thyroid hormone. Eventually, the gland produces little to no hormone. That’s hypothyroidism.

People without thyroid hormone are tired all the time. They gain weight without eating much, because the body’s metabolism slows and burns few calories. Hypothyroid patients cannot tolerate cold. A room that is comfortable for most is frigid for them. Skin dries. The voice hoarsens. Constipation is a common complication. Menstrual periods are out of kilter. Memory dims. Not all of these things happen to all hypothyroid patients, but, given time, many of them do. Early in the illness, people have no symptoms, and the condition is discovered only through blood tests.

In addition to the above, the thyroid gland is usually larger than normal – a goiter.

Hashimoto’s disease is cured with thyroid hormone. All that’s involved is taking one pill a day for life.

The thyroid booklet describes the common illnesses of this gland, both hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 401, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I lost my husband to brain cancer. He had glioblastoma multiforme. I am asking that you help me raise awareness of this killer by informing your readers to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor, no matter how trivial they might seem at the time. My husband went from a 51-year-old, healthy, strong, active man to dying three months after the diagnosis. Please tell people about this cancer. – J.M.

Glial cells, the ones that transform into glioblastoma multiforme, are brain cells that repair brain damage, generate energy and provide support to other brain cells. A glioblastoma multiforme is the worst kind of brain cancer. It grows rapidly and almost always causes death within a year of its diagnosis. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are used to slow its growth. About 18,400 people a year in the United States die of it.

Symptoms and signs of brain tumors depend on the tumor’s location and its size. Headache is a common symptom, and the headache is usually worse upon waking in the morning and often intensifies when a person lies down. Brain tumors can interfere with eye movement, and they often bring on double vision. They might weaken a leg or an arm, and they frequently cause people to stumble when walking. They can trigger seizures. Memory and personality changes are often part of the picture, and such tumors can make it difficult to speak.

Your mission to inform the public of this cancer is admirable and touching.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is cigar smoking less dangerous than cigarette smoking? My husband has switched from cigarettes to cigars. A good idea? – L.B.

Cigar smoking is a bit less dangerous than cigarette smoking, but not so much that it constitutes a health bonanza. If cigar smokers don’t inhale, they protect their lungs. Former cigarette smokers, however, are used to inhaling, and often inhale cigar smoke. Cigar smokers absorb nicotine through the linings of the mouth. Nicotine constricts arteries – not a healthy effect. They put themselves at a high risk for cancers of the mouth, tongue and larynx (voice box).

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Enclosed is my great-grandfather’s death certificate. He died in 1916, about age 45. What was the cause of death? Does “contributory” cause have to do with teeth? Are these causes around today? – D.V.

ANSWER: Your great-grandfather died of sepsis, an infection of the blood. It’s still around today, and it still can be fatal. In your great-grandfather’s day, there were no antibiotics, and the chances of surviving sepsis were just about nil.

The contributing cause to his sepsis was an infection of his mastoid bone, the bone next to the ear. It was a common infection in the pre-antibiotic era. It still happens, but it’s almost always successfully treated these days with antibiotics. Surgical removal of the infected bone was the former treatment.

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. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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