As Consultation and the Health section both enter their fourth year of publication, I'd like to again thank my readers for your interest, comments and trust. I'd also like to say a few things about the questions I receive.

I'm frequently surprised at the number of questions readers ask that are obviously important, yet have gone unanswered by their physician. I can only conclude that many people are either not asking their doctor questions they should be, or are not getting satisfactory responses.

One reader, for example, recently asked about an array of heart medications that seemed to be causing some unpleasant side effects. The reader asked for advice on how to take the medicines differently to avoid the side effects, or for me to recommend different medications that would work just as well.

My advice for problems like this is simple: Ask your doctor, or find a new one who will answer your questions to your satisfaction. Having said that, I can sympathize with patients who feel as if their doctor is sometimes talking gibberish. I'm sure I'm guilty of doing that from time to time, and I hope my patients stop me and make me explain things more simply.

I've learned from writing this column that a doctor should never underestimate their patients' desire to know more about their condition. Because of this, I try to anticipate the common questions most people have about a new illness. In case your doctor overlooks explaining something to you, here are some questions to ask when confronted by a new medical problem:

What exactly is this condition?

How and why did I get it?

Can I pass it on to others (family members; social contacts; my unborn child, if I'm pregnant; future children)?

How will it affect me?

What treatments are there for it?

What are the risks of the various treatments, and the risks of not treating this condition?

Can you recommend a book, pamphlet, self-help group or organization where I could learn more about this problem?

This column can tell you a lot about your health in general, but only your own doctor can treat you as an individual.