DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My doctor wants me to take a statin drug even though my total cholesterol is normal and my LDL cholesterol isn’t very high. The only other abnormal test was the CRP test. He says that a statin for someone like me has been shown to prevent heart attacks. My father died of one at age 42. I don’t relish taking pills. What are your thoughts? – L.F.

ANSWER:
We are overmedicated, especially older people who see more than one doctor. That’s true. But new information is proving to be a strong stimulus for prescribing statin medicine. Statin drugs – Crestor (rosuvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin) and Pravachol (pravastatin) – are the most effective cholesterol-lowering drugs available. A recent study has demonstrated that these drugs also lessen body inflammation, a relatively new aspect in the search for a cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Body inflammation disrupts plaque, the buildup of cholesterol and other materials in and on the artery wall. When that happens, the ruptured plaque attracts platelets, which form a clot within the artery. The clot blocks blood flow and leads to either a heart attack or a stroke, depending on whether the involved artery is a heart or brain artery. This is the mechanism most often involved in these incidents.

It turns out that statin drugs not only take care of cholesterol, but they also reduce inflammation, so they are a doubly effective prevention of heart attacks and strokes. The study I refer to is the Jupiter Study, which showed that people taking a statin were 48 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack and 50 percent less likely to have a stroke. So, how are we supposed to react to this? People at high risk for either heart attack or stroke are already taking a statin. People at low risk don’t need one. But people in between – a sizable number – are the ones who can benefit from this double action of statins. These people have a high C-reactive protein, a blood test that demonstrates body inflammation. They are candidates for statin therapy even if their cholesterol numbers are not so bad.

Your doctor must feel you belong to the group of people who would be well-served by statins’ dual action.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband and I became parents for the first time one month ago. I was discharged with my son the second day after his birth. On h­­is fourth day of life, his skin turned yellow. We were so scared that we took the baby back to the hospital, and he was admitted for light treatment. He stayed only two days and has done fine ever since. Is this something that could cause him permanent damage? – M.A.

ANSWER:
Your son had what 60 percent of newborn babies have – an increased level of bilirubin. His level apparently was high enough to warrant treatment. Bilirubin is a pigment that comes from hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying material inside all red blood cells. When red cells break down, they release their hemoglobin, which is turned into bilirubin. The liver processes bilirubin so that blood levels don’t rise. If the liver isn’t working well, blood bilirubin values increase. The skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow – jaundice. It takes infant livers a few days to mature enough to handle bilirubin. If the baby’s levels are high, exposing the baby to light inactivates bilirubin.

Your baby suffered no permanent damage from this very common occurrence.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is it possible for a man to come down with cancer if his female partner had been treated for cervical cancer? Specifically, I mean is this possible through sexual relations?

My son has been seeing a woman who is supposed to have had cervical cancer, and I wonder about his exposure to it. – C.M.

ANSWER:
I have never heard of cervical cancer being transmitted to a man from a woman in any manner. This is the first time this question has ever been asked of me. The answer is no.

I often get asked if prostate cancer can be transferred from a man to a woman through sex, and the answer to that also is no.

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 www.rbmamall.com.


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