Q. I'm 14 years old and still have many years of growing ahead of me. I've heard from various people that lifting weights can stunt a person's growth. Is it true?
A. In a word, no.
Damaging the growth plates -- areas of growth at the ends of the long bones in the legs and arms -- can bring about a sudden stop in that bone's growth. (If partially damaged, the bone end may grow unevenly and become crooked.) Weight lifting alone wouldn't do that, however.
But young weight lifters who take steroid injections to build up their muscles can stunt their growth. The steroids, known as anabolic steroids, speed up the "closure" of the growth plates, causing them to stop growing prematurely.
Unfortunately, because many weight lifters do use steroid injections, there is a ring of truth to what you've heard. But you needn't worry about weight lifting itself stunting your growth.
Q. I have chest pain that my doctor says is due to costochondritis, or Tietze's syndrome. I've taken anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers and muscle relaxers for it. None of these has worked, and I've developed some gastrointestinal side effects from the medications. Can you explain this condition and tell me my alternatives?
A. Costochondritis, meaning inflammation of rib cartilage, is a reasonably common cause of chest pain. (Costo means rib, chondro means cartilage, and itis means inflammation.) It usually affects people in their twenties and thirties and produces pain and tenderness in the front part of the chest where the ribs join the breastbone. In the less common variant of this condition, known as Tietze's syndrome, there is also painful localized swelling of these rib-breastbone junctions. The cause of costochondritis is not known, although it sometimes follows chest injury or unaccustomed physicial activity.
Many people with costochondritis mistakenly worry that they have a heart disorder, even a heart attack, and often seek medical attention in an emergency room.
The most important aspect of treating costochondritis is making sure that the chest pain isn't a sign of some serious problem with the heart or lungs. Doctors do this by taking a history of your symptoms and performing a physical examination. With costochondritis, the tip-off is the presence of localized tenderness along the breastbone. When your physician presses this area, it should reproduce the pain you're feeling. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or electrocardiogram (ECG).
If there is a question about your diagnosis, further evaluation or a second opinion is in order. If not, you have already tried some medicines doctors often used to treat this disorder. Other steps include:
using warm compresses on the affected area;
avoiding physicial exertion that stresses these rib junctions; and
getting an injection of a local anesthetic, with or without steroids like cortisone, into the tender spots.
Costochondritis lasts from days to months and almost always eventually clears up, even without treatment.
Q. Are there any health dangers from hair dye? My friend was advised by her doctor to stop coloring her hair or getting permanents during pregnancy. Is this sound advice?
A. Hair dyes and permanents are fairly safe, but a few people are sensitive to the ingredients and can develop a "contact dermatitis," or irritation and inflammation of the scalp. If severe, you may need cortisone-type medicines for relief and antibiotics if infection sets in.
There is no evidence that hair dyeing or getting a permanent during pregnancy is harmful to the fetus, but because no one knows for certain that it's absolutely safe, some doctors give the same advice they give about medicines or chemicals whose safety record during pregnancy is not fully established: Avoid them if possible to be on the safe side, but if you must use them, the risk, if any, is probably very small.
Q. I have a wart on my cervix. My doctor has told me that some genital warts have been associated with cervical cancer. However, he doesn't want to treat the wart because I'm 16 weeks pregnant. My concerns are: Can I go through natural childbirth or should I consider cesarean section to protect the baby from the wart? Should I be concerned about the wart being cancerous?
A. It's true that recent studies suggest a link between cervical cancer and the papilloma virus that causes gential warts. However, the warts themselves aren't cancerous, and I think it's reasonable to wait until you deliver before having the wart treated. There's generally a lag of five to 10 years before the viral infection could lead to early cancerous changes.
Cervical warts carry a very small risk of transmission to the baby as it passes through the birth canal. The main complication is the development of warts in the infant's larynx (voice box). If these occur, they can be treated with minor laser surgery that vaporizes the warty tissue.
Most physicians would proceed with vaginal delivery rather than cesarean section, but it sounds like you need to discuss this with your physician to feel comfortable about this decision.
External genital warts are often treated with the topical application of a liquid called podophyllin. However, this is a potentially toxic substance and should usually be avoided for warts inside the vagina or on the cervix. Cervical warts can be treated by laser vaporization, liquid nitrogen freezing or surgical excision.
Since genital warts can be sexually transmitted, I'd advise having your husband checked for warts also, especially to avoid recurrence once you've been treated.