DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please do an article on ulcerative colitis. My grandson, 17, has been diagnosed with it. What does this do for his future? Will he be able to have a family? My daughter is very upset by this, and so am I. He had been a promising ballplayer. Will he be able to play again? — N.K.
ANSWER: Ulcerative colitis is one of the two inflammatory bowel diseases. The other is Crohn's disease. UC often makes its appearance between the ages of 20 and 40 and has another, but smaller rise, in people in their 60s. The ulcers of ulcerative colitis are open sores on the surface of the colon. Such ulcers appear only in the colon, the large intestine. With Crohn's disease, deep ulcerations appear anywhere in the digestive tract.
What causes UC to appear is not a settled question. Genes have a definite influence. The immune system is involved in a way that is harmful to the colon. And it's theorized that some unknown environmental trigger is involved.
The signs and symptoms of UC depend on where in the colon the ulcers have developed and on the number of those ulcers. Diarrhea, often containing blood, and crampy abdominal pain are the cardinal signs. A colonoscopy provides critical information on the number of ulcers and their location.
Your grandson, if he's like most other UC patients, can choose whatever career in life that he wishes. Professional football players have suffered from the illness but continued to be active in their sport. He can have a family.
The number of medicines now available for this illness is large. I'll mention only a few. When the disease acts up, drugs from the cortisone family usually can bring the illness under control. Prednisone is the one most often prescribed. Newer medicines, called biologicals, can control the immune attack on the colon and are the latest additions to treatment. Infliximab is one example.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For at least five months I have suffered from jaw pain. Chewing was agonizing. I could open my mouth only a little bit.
A friend suggested I see her neurologist whom she was currently seeing. It sounded odd to me that I should see a neurologist, but I made an appointment all the same. He ordered a brain scan, which showed I had a pituitary tumor. The neurologist turned me over to an endocrinologist who worked me up and then passed me on to a neurosurgeon. My diagnosis was acromegaly. Since the tumor was removed, I am 95 percent better and expect to be 100 percent shortly. — A.L.
ANSWER: Acromegaly isn't a common illness. It comes from a tumor of the pituitary gland, the gland located at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland is a very busy gland. One of its hormones is growth hormone. In an adult, an excess of growth hormone doesn't make the person taller. It does, however, thicken bones and lead to head enlargement and enlargement of other bones. It often brings on arthritis, too. Your jaw problem came about from arthritis of the jaw joint.
Thanks for telling us your story. You've made many other people aware of a condition not often discussed.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My last mammogram showed "calcifications." My doctor hasn't said much about it to me. I asked what the significance of calcifications is. He said that he wanted to discuss this with the doctor who interpreted the mammograms.
Should I be doing anything to hurry things along? — A.F.
ANSWER: Your doctor has taken the correct approach to a problem that often is seen in mammograms — calcifications. The body puts down small amounts of calcium for a number of reasons. It's one way it has of patching up slight injuries or containing infections. Hurry things along only if the doctor is taking months to reply.
The significance of calcifications lies in their extent, their size, their location in the breast and the pattern they make. If there's even a slight doubt about cancer, the doctor will recommend that you have a biopsy.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.