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Back spasms have varied causes

Question: I am subject to acute, sudden muscle spasms in my lower back. I am not overweight and work out regularly. Can you tell me what causes this and how I can end it? - P.N. Answer: For the sake of discussion, I will assume that your symptoms really are muscle spasms, but remember that the back is more than muscle. It's spinal bone and discs and also ligaments and tendons.

If you have strained your muscles, stiffness and spasms can occur for some time afterward, especially if you overdo exercise. This is why it is best to resume exercise in moderation after injury.

As for the actual spasms, icing them for 20 to 30 minutes, then applying heat, helps reduce pain and further inflammation. Stretch the back muscles before exercise.

Finally, look to the abdominal muscles. Many times it is not the back musculature that is faulty, but the abdominals, which may be weak and placing too great a strain on the back.

You might benefit from a formal program to strengthen the back, and you might want to check into one of the YMCA programs available for that if your back-spasm diagnosis is correct.

To be certain, see a doctor.

Rapid heartbeat

Question: For several years, I have had a problem with rapid heartbeat. Tests show no abnormality. I have no pain.

They occur at night after I have gone to sleep. I get up and burp, and the heart slows to normal. I am on no medication.

I have learned I shouldn't eat before I lie down. Is there a stomach relationship? - Mrs. G.K. Answer: The Heinz food people used to claim that they had 57 varieties of products. There are at least that many forms of rapid heartbeat.

I will pick one at random: paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). Sounds fancy, but all it means is that the rapid beat is originating in the upper chambers of the heart.

Many things bring it on - caffeine, alcohol and, yes, even a too-full stomach. Probably in that connection, nerves to the stomach spark a reflex that switches on the rapid beat.

Were you my patient I would ask you to wear a monitor for a day or two to determine the precise type of rapid heartbeat present.

Allergy to sperm

Question: Is there such a thing as being allergic to sperm? If so, would the woman involved find it hard to become pregnant? - K.J.T. Answer: Sperm allergy exists, and it can be a factor in infertility. If so, there are ways to get around it. The sperm can be treated and artificially placed in the uterus, or the couple can opt for laboratory fertilization of the egg.

Allergists can now desensitize such women in much the same way they can desensitize against more common allergies.

Dr. Donohue welcomes reader mail but regrets that, due to the tremendous volume received daily, he is unable to answer individual letters.

Address letters to: Dr. Paul Donohue, P.O. Box 19660, Irvine, Calif. 92713.

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