DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a female, age 60. I have congestive heart failure, also an enlarged heart. The doctor says I have a virus going after my heart and they cannot find it. Doctors say there is nothing they can do. Please help me. - A.R.

ANSWER: Your letter is sparse on detail, A.R., but your appeal seems so desperate that I must say something. I wonder if things are really as dire as you paint them in your longer letter.Let's look at the problem. Certain viruses do attack the heart muscle. This attack can leave the heart weakened. This weakened pumping action is the congestive heart failure your doctor mentioned. In this process, the heart may, in fact, enlarge.

I am not clear at just what stage of this illness you are. Are you in the post-infection stage? If so, and if you have been left with a weakened heart, there are medicines to make intact heart tissue work more effectively. And there are medicines to get rid of any fluid buildup from the congestive heart failure.

Now, we have no drugs to abort such a virus attack in process, none for example, to kill the virus. However, such virus assaults are usually self-limiting. The virus, as they say, just wears itself out.

Rest is a key to recovery, along with the drugs I mentioned, which may be required thereafter. You must go back to your doctor and ask questions. Don't assume the worst. Medicines almost always help in such cases as yours.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a male, 68, and I have developed claustrophobia when in an airplane. I used to take trips with no trouble at all. I am afraid to fly now because of this. Is there anything I can take before boarding a plane that would help? - S.S.

ANSWER: A phobia is an irration-al fear. It can be fear of heights, of closed spaces (like yours), of public places, of dogs, cats, or whatever. Name anything, and you'll find somebody who has a phobia involving that.

There are ways to combat phobias. A counselor might help uncover something lying deeply hidden in the psyche, something triggered now by airplane interiors. Perhaps the setting in some way releases a barrage of brain chemicals that leave you in your state of anxiety.

Some people can be desensitized to phobia triggers, and the airlines themselves are actively interested in the topic as it concerns air travel. Yes, there are medicines your doctor can prescribe as part of a counseling program to help you overcome your phobia.

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