DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am writing to you about my grandson. I am very worried about him. He has started to lose his hair in patches on his head. He has seen a dermatologist, who told him he has alopecia areata and that nothing can be done for it. Do you know of anything that can be done for my grandson? — W.G.

ANSWER: Alopecia areata isn’t usually considered a health threat, but it produces great psychological distress. It affects about 1 percent of the population. It can occur at any age, but it most often happens to people in their 20s and 30s. Men and women are equally affected. Oval bald patches occur on the scalp, and they vary in number and size. Around 80 percent have a single bald spot; a little more than 12 percent have two patches; the rest have more. A few people’s eyebrows are affected, and fewer still suffer from total baldness.

It’s an example of an illness where the immune system has initiated an attack on the body’s hair follicles. The reason has not yet been discovered. Although the bald patches are upsetting, the prognosis for most is favorable. About 80 percent see a regrowth of hair in a year. It’s possible that the bald patches will reappear, however.

Knowing that the odds are in his favor, your grandson might choose not to undergo treatment. If he wants to speed hair regrowth, a number of options are open to him. Cortisone ointments or creams applied to the patch have fostered hair return for some. Injections of a cortisone drug into the bald skin are another approved treatment. Anthralin cream rubbed on the affected area and left on it for less than an hour also can coax hair growth. Minoxidil is another choice.

If your grandson wants more information, he should check out the National Alopecia Areata Foundation at its Web site:

TO READERS: Asthma is an illness that has staged a resurgence. Readers can obtain the booklet on this common malady by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 602, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: About a year ago, a doctor told me he believed I had Leriche syndrome, but he didn’t say what it was. I’ve been to about six orthopedic surgeons, but I get the impression they don’t want to become involved. I have a sack behind the thigh just about the knee. I am at my wits’ end over this. — J.C.

ANSWER: Leriche (luh-REESH) syndrome is a blockage of blood flow in the lower part of the aorta. The blockage is usually a cholesterol buildup. This compromises blood flow to the legs and leads to rapid fatigue in the hip, thigh and calf muscles along with pain. In men, it can produce impotence. It has nothing to do with the sack behind your thigh. There’s another Leriche syndrome that affects bone, but I don’t think it applies to you.

One possibility for such a sack is a Baker’s cyst. It’s a bursa (a little disk affair that prevents friction from tendons rubbing on bone) that’s swollen with fluid. Orthopedic doctors see Baker’s cysts routinely and deal with them effectively. Were they put off by your mentioning the possibility of Leriche syndrome?

Other plausible diagnoses include: a fatty tumor, a muscle tumor or an aneurysm (bulge) of an artery.

Some doctor has to give you a name for this. How about starting over? This time, consult a family doctor first. Everyone needs a family doctor.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: The last time you wrote about gout, I sent you a letter about using cherry juice for it. My information comes from a doctor. A friend of mine came down with very painful gout in his knees. I told his daughter to give him cherry juice. In two days, he was pain-free. My brother got the same result from cherry juice. It’s worth a try. At least give your readers an option. — L.L.

ANSWER: I have heard about the cherry juice treatment of gout before. I don’t doubt it worked for your friend and brother, but I’m not sure it works for all. If people want to try it, I’m not standing in their way.

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

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