QUESTION: I have just been diagnosed with a ranula. I am told it is a cyst of the mouth. When it swells, it is like a purple plum and very uncomfortable. Can it be removed surgically? What's involved in that? I am told it is benign, but wonder if I should be seeing a specialist about this. I am so worried. What happens if nothing is done about it? I am a female, 56. Any information would be appreciated. - M.K.R.

ANSWER: The salivary glands cause ranulas (RAN-u-luh). The gland duct breaks open to permit the spilling of mucus into surrounding tissue, creating the cyst-like appearance.A large ranula can be removed in the doctor's office. If nothing is done, a ranula tends to recur. It is not cancerous. With one that size, I would be looking for a surgical answer.

Incidentally, I can't be of help in providing the origin of the term "ranula." It is a reference to "little frog," the significance of which eludes me.

QUESTION: I am a female in good health except for the occasional cold, etc. I need information on menopause. I have severe hot flashes with the sweating and all the rest. Sometimes I feel depressed and irritable, mainly from fatigue, the result of waking up four or five times a night with the flushes. I have them during the day as well, but not as severe. - M.T.

ANSWER: The "change" should be for the better, not the worse. I know many women whose menopause has in fact ushered in their most productive years, as much as their puberty heralded reproductive ones.

Having said this, I must admit that some women do suffer great discomfort of one kind or another with menopause. As the ovaries' hormone production wanes and finally ceases almost entirely, periods stop, and signs of that may be genital dryness, the hot flushes, the sweating.

Women should not have anxieties over all this, for it hampers only a minority, and they can be helped with hormone and non-hormone therapies. With regard to the flushes, one way of lessening them is to go for an iced drink as soon as they come on. Wear layered lightweight clothing, which can be removed as symptoms require. Avoid alcohol and spicy foods.

Most women expect such symptoms to be endless, but in reality they end for most within six months. Only the minority of menopausal women have symptoms that linger a year or longer. See the menopause report. Write to Dr. Donohue/No.21, Box 830, Gibbstown, NJ 08027-9909, enclosing a long, stamped, self-addressed envelope and $2.

QUESTION: I hope you can help me. I am 61, a female, and have had this problem for six months. I have a burning sensation on the left side of my tongue. I have tried everything to relieve it, but nothing works. It bothers me most when I try to sleep. - M.B.

ANSWER: This is a common benign post-menopausal complaint, but you must rule out things such as pernicious anemia, diabetes, virus infection or vitamin B deficiency. A doctor can help you with selection of various aids, such as numbing agents (i.e., xylocaine viscous). Look for food triggers, chiefly in the acid group.

FOR C.W. - Normal pulse range is 60 to 100. Fast pulse can mean only a lack of exercise. To answer your question, unplanned weight loss along with fast pulse can mean overactive thyroid.

Dr. Donohue welcomes reader mail but regrets that, due to the tremendous volume received daily, he is unable to answer individual letters. Readers' questions are incorporated in his column whenever possible.