Dear Dr. Roach: I read that wearing a bra increases the risk of breast cancer, since a bra prevents drainage of lymphatics in the breast and this lymph fluid contain toxins. Is this true?


Dear P.P.L.: No, this isn’t true. The idea comes from a 1995 book (not a peer-reviewed scientific study), which had many basic flaws. Several well-done studies have shown that there is no significant increased risk (there was a nonsignificant trend toward decreased risk) in breast cancer among women who wear bras more frequently. There also has been no evidence that lymphatics contain cancer-causing toxins, and women who have damage to the lymph system (specifically women with a history of cancer requiring removal of the lymph nodes that drain the breast) have no increased risk of breast cancer.

Dear Dr. Roach: My husband is 88 years old. He has atrial fibrillation. The strange thing is that when his heart goes into this rhythm, he burps constantly. His cardiologist has no clue as to why this happens.


Dear J.H.: Atrial fibrillation is a chaotic loss of rhythm in the heart. It can be present all the time, or it can come and go, in which case it is called “intermittent” or “paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.” Both constant and intermittent a fib can cause the problem of a too-fast heart rate. But they also increase the risk of a blood clot, which can cause a stroke if it goes to the brain.

As far as burping being associated with a paroxysm of atrial fibrillation, I do have at least a clue why this happens. The vagus nerve takes information to and from both the heart and the digestive system. It is not clear to me whether issues in the digestive system can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation, but many people identify burping as a symptom during atrial fibrillation events.

Burping can be an important indication of the existence of this serious rhythm disorder. If left untreated, 5 percent of people will have a stroke in any given year. Because atrial fibrillation is so important, people with episodes of periodic burping (and their doctors) should consider the possibility, especially if there is an associated fast or irregular heart rate or palpitations.

One German study suggested that simethicone (Gas-X and others) might be able to stop atrial fibrillation in people whose atrial fibrillation is triggered by intestinal gas.

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