DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 82. I fell off a ladder while painting my shutters. I broke my right leg, the tibia bone. This happened six weeks ago. The doctor just examined me, and I had an X-ray. He said it looks like the bone isn’t healing, and he wants me to return in another month. Aren’t most bones healed in six weeks? What happens if mine doesn’t heal? – L.N.

ANSWER:
The tibia is the larger of the two lower-leg bones. You can feel it if your run your hand down the inside part of the leg between the knee and ankle. It’s the shin bone.

Healing time for a broken bone depends on a lot of considerations: the severity of the break; its location in the bone; whether broken bone has pierced the skin; the quality of a person’s circulation; and on and on.

In the best of circumstances, it takes most bones about six weeks to heal. In older people, partly because of inadequate circulation and partly because of diminished bone quality, it takes longer for bones to heal. It can take months and months.

If healing doesn’t take place, orthopedic surgeons have a number of tricks up their sleeves. They can take a piece of good bone from another bone and use it as a bridge between the two nonhealing ends of the broken bone. Or they can joint the two bone ends with metallic hardware.

You’re not far off schedule for healing. It’s not time to lose hope of nature taking its course.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For about a year, I have had attacks of diarrhea that are so bad I have to rush to the bathroom to avoid an accident. I gave up all dairy products, but that didn’t help. I haven’t eaten any fruit or vegetables for the past three months. That didn’t do anything.

My doctor says diarrhea in someone my age isn’t unusual. Is that true? – N.M.

ANSWER:
In my book, it’s unusual, regardless of age.

You need an extensive investigation of your digestive tract, and you should have it soon. Have you lost much weight? I’d contact a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in this kind of problem.

The gastroenterologist will want to look at your digestive tract with a scope to detect things like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. He or she will want your stool analyzed for its fat content. An abundance of fat in the stool implies that food isn’t being absorbed. There are other malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease, where diarrhea is a prominent symptom. In celiac disease, the digestive tract is intolerant of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten turns up in many foods that might surprise you. Diarrhea results if gluten is eaten.

Illnesses far removed from the stomach and intestines can also lead to diarrhea. An overactive thyroid gland, for example, sometimes speeds up the passage of food through the tract.

I could go on listing causes of diarrhea, but it wouldn’t serve a useful purpose. What would is putting yourself in the hands of a gastroenterologist. Do so.

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


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