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QUESTION: I am a 71-year-old woman, and my doctor tells me that I have peripheral neuropathy with nerve degeneration. He says there is no cure for it. Could you tell me what might cause it, and if there is any cure? - D.H.

ANSWER: I think your doctor is telling you that your peripheral neuropathy does not fit into any of the known cause patterns. I could give you a list of possible nerve pain causes as long as your arm and you still might not find the one underlying yours.Diabetes, low thyroid output, deficiency of B vitamins, cirrhosis, infections, certain tumors, alcohol and, finally, heredity make up a partial list. Peripheral neuropathy of unknown cause is the most common conclusion.

For other readers, "neuropathy" means illness (pathy) of a nerve (neuro), "peripheral" referring to the fact that the nerve involved is outside the central nervous system, as in the arms or legs. Whichever nerve network is involved, you sense pain where there is no cause for pain. Or you may lose sensation altogether in that area or have muscle weakness there.

Although no immediate cause can be found, I am sure the doctor will continue his search for one. Then treatment is possible. If no cause is found, the treatment is to limit the effects. For example, doctors may use TENS, an electrical device to deaden the pain signals.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if severe stress can cause canker sores? I've had them on three occasions, once from a death in the family and other times from severe aggravation. It usually clears up in a few days. Is my stress theory correct? - M.E.K.

ANSWER: Yes, your theory is correct. Stress, emotional or physical, can bring on an outbreak of canker sores. But while we can blame stress as a contributor, we must remember that the immediate cause is most likely some derangement in the immunity system, which leads to this attack on mouth membranes, producing the otherwise unexplained mouth sores.

QUESTION: How can one raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol? Mostly, I am interested in raising the HDL, as my readings are relatively low. Overall cholesterol is 236. - J.U.

ANSWER: A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). It also lowers total cholesterol. Weight loss, exercise and quitting smoking raises HDL (good cholesterol). There are drugs that lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

FOR P.G. - Address your letter to the Department of Plastic Surgery in a major hospital near you. Or you can call the local medical society in the city where you live. I am sure that one way or another you can get a referral to a competent plastic surgeon for the procedure you want.

C) 1989 North America Syndicate Inc.