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?

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. This means you likely 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? Are they a cause for alarm? Should they prompt a visit to an ophthalmologist or even an emergency room?

    HealthSmart asked Dr. Suber Huang, 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. Floaters may also be caused by bleeding due to injury or blood vessel problems. In addition, they can be caused by infection or inflammation of the eyes. To put things in perspective, above five percent of floaters are due to these causes. But the vast majority of floaters are due to the aging process. As we age the vitreous, the jelly-like substance that fills the eyeballs and helps maintain their round shape, begins to partially liquefy. This process can cause “slush” in the eye, resulting in stringy floaters or foggy vision.

Dear HealthSmart,

    I worry about thyroid cancer, which plagued by mother. What are the risk factors?

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

    Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men and typically develop this disease at a younger age--with peak incidence in their 40s and 50s. By comparison, men typically develop thyroid cancers in their 60s and 70s. We know that a personal history of breast cancer puts individuals at risk—a factor that 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 risk factors.

    Send your questions to Editor@WashNews.Com. Or mail them to Ellen James Martin, P.O. Box 30303, Bethesda, Maryland 20824. HealthSmart is a national newspaper column from the Washington News Service in DC. Information conveyed through the column is no substitute for care from physicians or other medical professionals.