Leaky Heart Valve Not Always Serious

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Six years ago, I had a heart attack that resulted in triple bypass surgery, and I had to have my mitral valve replaced. Last year, my cardiologist informed me that my new mitral valve and my original aortic valve were leaking a little. He told me not to worry about it. I do worry. If you have a leak in your pipe in your home, you have it fixed immediately. I would think that applies to the body too. What do you think? — M.G.

ANSWER: You can’t compare heart valves to leaky pipes. They’re quite different, and they behave quite differently.

Many people at older ages have slightly leaky heart valves that don’t interfere with heart action in the least. If the leaks were compromising your heart’s pumping, the doctor would have jumped right in with a suggestion for immediate repair.

Furthermore, unlike a pipe, valve leaks can, but don’t always, get worse.

Your doctor will check your heart regularly, and if the leaks are increasing, he will tell you then. For now, don’t dwell on them.

The booklet on heart-valve problems discusses these common medical conditions in depth. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 105W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like to know why you lose flesh with age, but not bone, nor skin, nor fat. One doctor told me that’s why people get colder when they get older. I am rapidly losing flesh. — L.J.

ANSWER: People lose muscle with age. The process is called sarcopenia (SAHR-coe-PEA-knee-uh). I never thought of it until you brought it up, but it could be a reason why older people chill quickly. Muscles generate heat, and they serve as insulation. Shivering is a response to a cold environment. Shivering muscles give off heat.

Lots of unpleasant things happen with aging. Metabolism slows, and that’s another reason why older people complain of the cold. Our bodies don’t repair themselves as well as they did when we were young. Bones do lose strength and size with age. Growing old is not for the faint of heart.

Sarcopenia and bone loss can be kept to a minimum and possibly reversed if people exercise. The kind of exercise they must do is “resistance” exercise — lifting weights. It sounds nutty, but it’s for real. Weights don’t have to be of the same magnitude used in a bodybuilding contest. You can start with one-pound weights and gradually increase the poundage when you become comfortable with that amount of weight.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been on thyroid medicine for years. It was suggested that I take iodine to get my thyroid gland functioning on its own. Why don’t doctors suggest iodine rather than prescription medicine for the thyroid? — V.W.

ANSWER: Unless the circumstances are quite unusual and unless a person is truly iodine deficient, taking iodine doesn’t cure thyroid problems. You shouldn’t stop your thyroid medicine unless your doctor says to do so.

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.

© 2008 North America Synd., Inc. All Rights Reserved

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