HealthSmart Q & A-16

Dear HealthSmart,

I fret about my health constantly—so much so that I can’t think straight at work and don’t feel like socializing. It seems like every week I’m obsessed with a new ailment. But the doctors can’t find anything wrong. What’s happening with me?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Brian Fallon, M.D., Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University. Here’s his response:

It sounds like you’re suffering from Health Anxiety. Likely you worry you’re seriously ill or will soon become so. Often, people with this disorder are convinced they have a serious illness despite the absence of physical symptoms. Even when a doctor confirms there’s nothing wrong, they find no solace. Unfortunately, this excessive anxiety often results in disabling distress which is more worrisome than the disease the patient fears. Health Anxiety is a long-term condition that fluctuates in severity with age and stress. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often successful as a treatment plan and some patients find relief in taking certain antidepressants.


Dear HealthSmart,

What causes eye floaters? Should they be alarming and prompt a visit to the ophthalmologist or even emergency room?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Suber Nuang, M.D., Founder of the Retina Center of Ohio. Here’s his response:

There are several causes for eye floaters, some annoying but harmless, and others very serious. The most dangerous cause would be new bleeding or new cells that come into the eye through a tear in the retina. The may also be caused by bleeding due to injury or blood vessel problems. Inflammation of the eye causes by infection or inflammatory diseases. To put things in perspective, roughly less than five percent of floaters can be attributed to the causes listed above. The vast majority of floaters are due to the aging process. As we age the vitreous, the jelly-like substance that fills your eyeballs and helps maintain their round shape, begins to partially liquefy. This process can cause “slush” in the eye, resulting in foggy vision or stringy floaters.


Dear HealthSmart,

What are the risk factors for thyroid cancer? Does family history put me at high risk?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko, M.D./Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medical Oncology at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute. Here’s his response:

Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men and will develop thyroid cancer at a younger age, with peak incidence in their 40s and 50s, whereas men typically develop thyroid cancers in their 60s and 70s. We know that a personal history of breast cancer will put an individual at risk which likely contributes to the increased incidence we see in women. Having at least one immediate relative with a history of thyroid cancer is a risk factor but the basis for this link is not totally clear. Additionally, a family history of goiters, polyps in the colon, and an inherited mutation in the RET gene, which controls a neuro receptor, can increase one’s risk. A diet low in iodine, excess exposure to radiation from imaging tests (more specifically having had head and neck radiation as a child) are other contributing risk factors.


Do you have questions on health or wellness you’d like answered by the nation’s leading medical researchers? If so, you can send to HealthSmart is a national newspaper column from the Washington News Service in DC. Due to demand, we are unable to reply to all inquiries. Responses through the column are no substitute for care from physicians or other medical professionals.

Copyright Ellen James Martin 2021


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