DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband died in January of this year. The physician at the hospital said he died of an aortic aneurysm. Can you tell me what it is? How did he get it? Could our children have it? – K.A.

An aneurysm (ANN-your-izm) is a bulge in an artery wall that forms where there is a weak spot in the wall. It looks a bit like a soap bubble.

Aging, smoking and artery hardening are the prime factors that promote aneurysm formation. Genes are involved. But the fact that your husband had an aneurysm does not mean your children are bound to have one.

Fully three-quarters of aneurysms are silent, not producing any symptoms. In a few instances, aneurysms make themselves known by stomach or back pain or by a feeling of fullness after eating only a few bites of food. Those symptoms point to a bulge in the abdominal aorta, the place where most aneurysms occur. The aorta is the body’s largest artery. The heart pumps blood directly into the aorta, and this huge blood vessel travels from the heart to the bottom of the abdomen and sprouts branches all along its path.

Sometimes, when exploring the abdomen with their fingers, doctors can detect an abdominal aneurysm by its pulsations. An ultrasound picture is the best way to spot them.

What to do for an aneurysm depends on its size. If an aneurysm is less than 2.2 inches (5.5 cm) in diameter, it can be observed with follow-up ultrasound pictures at scheduled intervals. If it is larger than 2.2 inches, the aneurysm can be repaired with an artery graft. Nowadays, some doctors repair them with a stent-graft, a patch that seals the aneurysm by inching a soft tube with the graft at its tip to the site of artery weakness. The soft tube (catheter) is inserted into a surface artery.

Your husband’s aneurysm must have burst. That almost always leads to death.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had a pain in my wrist on the thumb side. I don’t remember injuring it. I have been soaking my wrist in hot water for two weeks, and the pain is still there. What could this be? -M.R.

It could be DeQuervain’s (duh cur-VEINS) syndrome, an inflammation of the tendons that control thumb movement. It can happen following an injury, but it more often happens from constant use of the hand, thumb and wrist without any rest.

Bend your thumb so it lies in your palm. Wrap your fingers over it. Now bend your wrist sideways in the direction of the little finger. If that maneuver produces pain, the evidence for DeQuervain’s syndrome is strong.

A splint to rest the thumb is standard treatment, as are anti-inflammatory drugs (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, etc.). Heat, in the form of warm-water soaks, is another way to quiet tendon inflammation.

You’ve been dickering with this for two weeks. Stop. See the family doctor. A cortisone shot near the tendon can often put a quick end to the pain.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like a little insight on Pott’s disease. My friend has been diagnosed with it, and I cannot find much information on it. – D.D.

Pott’s disease is tuberculosis of one or more backbones (vertebrae). Say TB and people automatically think “lung disease.” Lungs are the usual site of a TB infection, but many other body sites can harbor the germ. The meninges (brain coverings), the pericardium (the sac that contains the heart), kidneys, digestive tract, adrenal gland, testes and ovaries are other places where TB can be found.

When a backbone is infected, it often crumbles and makes a tender prominence that can be easily spotted.

The same drugs used to treat lung TB are also used to treat backbone TB. Treatment is usually successful.

EAR DR. DONOHUE: My co-worker eats lots of chocolate, and she has me doing the same. Recently I have a brown discharge from my right eye. Could it be due to my chocolate habit? – A.R.

Your letter sounds as though it was written in earnest, so I’ll answer in earnest. The brown discharge is not related to chocolate-eating.

See your doctor to determine the cause of it.

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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