HealthSmart Q & A-6

Dear HealthSmart,

I’m very motivated to quit smoking. Can I find any over-the-counter items at my local pharmacy that could help me quit?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Scott McIntosh, M.D., Director of the Center for Smoking Cessation Research at University of Rochester Medical School. Here’s his response:

You can now find many “Nicotine Replacement Therapy” (NRT) items without a prescription – including a patch, chewing gum, lozenge, and nasal spray. Also, with a prescription you can obtain a NRT inhaler. NRT reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms by giving you nicotine but not the dangerous chemicals and toxins found in cigarettes. The various forms of NRT come at different levels of nicotine. Be sure to follow the directions provided with any of these NRT products. The goal of NRT is to gradually reduce the levels and dosage needed until you no longer crave nicotine. The patch is the only NRT that provides a steady dose of nicotine. In contrast, the gum, lozenge, nasal sprays and inhalers are used on a schedule outlined in the product information and to fight cravings. We recommend smokers start using NRTs a week or two leading up to their quit date to decrease initial cravings.


Dear HealthSmart,

I’ve suffered from daily headaches over the last year. I’m scared I have a brain tumor. What other symptoms should I track before going to a neurologist?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Allan Friedman, M.D., Deputy Director of The Preston Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. Here’s his response:

Headaches are one very common symptom of brain tumors. To prepare for your doctor’s visit, notice and record how you experience your headaches—including the time of day and location of your pain. Also record any other symptoms that could indicate a tumor. These include seizures, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, loss of appetite, visual changes, balance issues, weakness and problems with speech and language. This record will help your doctor determine how to evaluate you for a possible tumor and decide on the possible use of such imaging tests as the MRI or CT scan.


Dear HealthSmart,

I’ve noticed nodules in my Thyroid. If I’m not experiencing any worrisome side effects, are these bumps a cause for concern?

HealthSmart asked Dr. John Morris III, M.D., President of the American Thyroid Association. Here’s his response:

Nodules definitely don’t necessarily indicate cancer. Most people have them by the time they reach age 50 and a great majority are not cancer and will never be cancer. Nodules are often biopsied and removed too frequently as a precautionary measure, and there is a large over diagnosis of thyroid cancer and nodules due to the increase and application of imaging to medical practices. Blood tests are most important in diagnosing. The must be blood and physical findings in conjunction with physical symptoms – some physicians will diagnose and prescribe treatment for just symptoms which is not appropriate.


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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