DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had a lower G.I. for a cancer check. No cancer was found, but my doctor told me I have diverticulosis. He considers this a ho-hum condition. Is it significant? I don’t like the sound of it. – K.A.

In countries where food is highly refined and consumption of fiber is meager, diverticulosis is rampant. The United States and Canada are two of those countries, and close to 50 percent of those in their golden years here have it.

A diverticulum is a pea-sized bulge of the colon lining through the colon wall. When the colon must exert great force to move undigested food through itself, the force causes the lining to bulge through the muscular colon wall, giving the appearance of an inner tube bulging through a gap in a tire.

The role of fiber in prevention of diverticulosis has to do with fluid that fiber absorbs. Fiber in undigested food keeps the waste moist, soft and easily evacuated.

Most people who have diverticulosis have no symptoms. Their diverticulosis is discovered by accident when an X-ray or scan is taken for some other purpose.

Diverticulosis can change into diverticulitis. The “itis” is a problem. It’s an inflammation of diverticula. The inflammation causes abdominal pain. It might also cause rectal bleeding. In the extreme, when one of the inflamed diverticula becomes massively distended, it can burst and release hordes of bacteria into the abdominal cavity.

People with diverticulosis usually need no medicine, no surgery and no treatment. The only thing they need to do is increase their intake of fiber — whole grains, bran, vegetables and fruits with their skins. Fiber prevents more diverticula from forming.

Diverticulosis is a common disorder. People who would like to learn more about it and diverticulitis can order the pamphlet on those topics by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 502, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Our 45-year-old son has eosinophilic gastroenteritis. It is so bad that he carries a portable toilet in his van, since the need to move his bowels requires immediate action. Is this curable? Is it hereditary? Does it make him unable to have children? – D.M.

Eosinophils are one of the five different kinds of white blood cells. They are often involved with allergies or parasite infections.

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis is an obscure condition. Inexplicably, eosinophils leave the blood and penetrate the digestive tract. Crampy abdominal pain and diarrhea are two of its salient features.

On rare occasions, people can identify a particular food that sets off the pain and diarrhea. Your son ought to keep a diary to see if there is one or two foods associated with his symptoms.

Most patients, however, cannot identify a triggering food. They have to rely on prednisone, one of the cortisone drugs, to control symptoms. Control is possible. Cure is often unobtainable.

The condition is not a hereditary one. He did not get it from his parents, nor is he going to pass it to his children. It does not make a person infertile.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had an aluminum coffeepot for years, one that I like very much. Should I throw it away? – T.H.

Why would you want to do that? Have you heard that aluminum pots, pans, etc., are possibly associated with Alzheimer’s disease?

The brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients do have some aluminum deposits. But no one can prove whether these deposits caused the illness or if they are simply a consequence of having the illness.

Aluminum is the third most common element on Earth. It’s in water, food, cosmetics, antiperspirants, pots, pans and many other commonly used products. Experts on Alzheimer’s disease do not suggest disposing of aluminum products.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 82 years old and have noticed that my legs are swelling. I take blood pressure and diabetes pills. I walk briskly for an hour a day.

The swelling goes down at night but comes back in the day. Is there a pill I can take to get rid of this swelling, or am I destined to have it for the rest of my time on Earth? – P.M.

You might be destined to have swollen legs for the rest of your life unless you find the reason why the legs are swelling. There is no single pill that remedies all the causes of leg swelling.

A heart that is failing leads to lower leg and ankle swelling because blood backs up in veins. The feebly contracting heart muscle cannot completely empty the heart of blood. Consequently, veins returning blood to the heart are overfilled with blood, and the result is swollen legs. Here, treatment centers on helping the heart pump more vigorously.

Varicose veins can cause fluid to ooze into the lower leg and ankle tissues — an entirely different cause from the failing heart problem, and one calling for entirely different treatment.

Lymph is fluid that percolates through body tissues, bringing nourishment and sweeping away the trash that body cells produce. Lymphatics are channels that vacuum the lymph fluid and return it to the circulation. Any obstruction to lymphatics produces swelling. The legs are a major target for lymphatic obstruction.

Medicines are another cause of fluid retention in the legs.

While your doctor looks for a cause, there are a few things you can do to minimize the swelling. Three or four times a day, lie down and prop up your legs on three or four pillows for half an hour. That drains the excessive fluid out of the legs. Sleep with legs propped up. During the day, wear elastic support stockings. Keep on walking. When leg muscles contract, they push blood out of leg vessels and propel it to the heart.

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.

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