DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My granddaughter, who's 3, was speaking clearly until recently, when she began stuttering. My son wonders if it can be caused by lead poisoning. They live in an older house, as do the other grandparents. What are the symptoms of lead poisoning? - Mrs. G.H.

ANSWER: I can't associate stuttering with lead poisoning. The usual signs of acute poisoning are loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting and abdominal pain. By "acute" I mean exposure to high lead levels over a relatively brief period. Low dose exposure over longer periods (chronic) may lead to more subtle effects, such as impaired learning ability.Nevertheless, a child reared in a home where there is lead-based paint present, as in very old houses, is at risk for poisoning. In older neighborhoods babies were found to be affected by chewing on the flaked-off lead-based wall (or old crib) paint. Blood tests tell the lead levels, so why not have that test done?

Now, stuttering occurs in one in four young children, usually in 3-or 4-year-olds. For most, it lasts six months and subsides. Any stuttering that persists longer than that should be checked out with possible referral to a speech pathologist.

Why do young children stutter? Usually, the child is learning so many new things that its mind and speech mechanisms become entangled in attempts at expression. Your granddaughter may be going through this stage. For now, listen to her patiently without trying to complete her thoughts and ideas. Show no concern or anxiety over little failures. Above all, don't punish. Only if this goes on past the six months limitation I mentioned need you have real concern.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a man, 5 feet 2 inches tall. What I want to know is if there is any way I can increase my height, or at least not get any shorter. I am thinking of hanging upside down by my feet for 20 minutes a day. Please help. - V.S.

ANSWER: Believe me, if I could offer some simple and innocent method to attain your goal, I'd do it in a minute. I can't. There's no way, at 35, to increase your height one iota. Yes, hanging upside down might give you a temporary extra inch as the backbone segments stretch, but that really is only temporary.

Are you thinking about the growth hormone therapy? That is limited to children who early on demonstrate an actual lack of normal amounts in their bodies. At 35, you have achieved all the height your genes dictated. Your linear fate is sealed at the ends of your body's long bones. Why not concentrate on all the famous shorties of the past and present and make the most of the hand nature has dealt you?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is liposuction only for younger people? How about a 60-year-old? - Mrs. J.L.

ANSWER: Sure you can have it, or at least you can be examined to see if you are an appropriate candidate.

The important consideration isn't age, but the quality of the skin. A certain elasticity is required for best liposuction results. It just happens that younger skin is somewhat more pliant. It is this elasticity that permits the contouring over areas where fat cells have been suctioned off. Without that elasticity, the skin may quickly wrinkle rather than lie smooth.

Another reader (K.W.) asks about anesthesia for liposuction. If large or many areas are treated, then general anesthesia is used. Small localized sections of skin can be done with local anesthesia.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You did a nice job telling people the latest treatments for multiple sclerosis. Now, how about doing the same for rheumatoid arthritis? - Mrs. F.M.

DEAR DOCTOR: I've been taking gold treatment for rheumatoid arthritis with some success. I am wondering about the newer drugs for it. Is it time to change? - B.O.

ANSWER: Rest, anti-inflammation drugs, such as aspirin, and physical therapy to preserve joint mobility remain the cornerstones of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. But this is not an illness limited to joints, and new information is always emerging.

Is new always better? Not necessarily. If, as the adage says, it isn't broken, don't fix it. If medicine is working, why switch? The need to change drugs is based on how effective the present ones are doing the job.

For example, there is, as you may know, now an oral form of gold salts. Yet the gold injections are still one of the mainstays of treatment. Methotrexate is being used more and more.