DEAR DR. DONOHUE: On your suggestion, I had a colonoscopy. I am 56 and never had one before. No polyps or cancer was found, but the doctor said I have diverticulosis. I could sleep a lot more soundly without knowing that. When will I have to have surgery? – L.M.

ANSWER:
Probably never.

Diverticulosis is common in Western countries, where people eat little fiber. It became widespread when the practice of refining grains for flour became widespread. Refinement removes bran from grains. Bran is the outer coat of grains; it is fiber. Fiber keeps stool moist and soft. The muscles of the digestive tract can push it through the entire length of the tract with little trouble. Dry, hard stool, on the other hand, requires digestive tract muscles to exert great force to move the undigested food. That force pushes the intestinal lining through the intestinal wall. Pea-size, 0.2-inch to 0.4-inch (0.5-cm to 1-cm) bubbles of the intestinal lining stud the outer surface of the intestines. Those protrusions are diverticula. You’re not alone in having them. About half of those 60 and older have some, and by age 80, two-thirds do.

Diverticulosis is a colon with diverticula, nothing else. It’s not usually painful. Inflammation of diverticula – diverticulitis – is painful. Only 10 percent to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis go on to have diverticulitis.

The abdominal pain of diverticulitis is felt mostly in the lower-left side of the abdomen. It’s the lowermost part of the colon where most diverticula are found. In addition to pain, diverticulitis raises body temperature and brings with it diarrhea or constipation. Sometimes it leads to rectal bleeding.

Most diverticulitis attacks can be treated by resting the digestive tract. That’s done by giving patients intravenous fluids. Antibiotics quiet the infection that is always present. Even diverticulitis is rarely treated with surgery. You don’t face being wheeled into an operating room.

The booklet on diverticulosis and diverticulitis presents the facts on these conditions and discusses their treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue, No. 502, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What’s the matter with taking thyroid hormone for weight loss? I took it 20 years ago and it worked wonders. The doctor who gave me the prescription has died. My new doctor refuses to give me one. Why? – K.C.

ANSWER:
A person with a normal thyroid gland doesn’t need more thyroid hormone. Such treatment is intended only for those who don’t make enough of the hormone.

An excess of thyroid hormone creates hyperthyroidism. Body metabolism speeds up, and that accounts for the weight loss. Keeping all body systems in overdrive is not good. It wears things out. Too much thyroid hormone makes your heart speed up, rushes the passage of food through the digestive tract, can produce insomnia, upsets menstrual periods and could make you quite shaky. You don’t want to take it for weight loss.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: After having triplets, I have a fold of skin that hangs down from my stomach. It looks awful, and I know my husband doesn’t like it.

I gained weight during my pregnancy, in addition to the weight of the triplets, and I still have some pounds I could lose. Would losing weight help shrink the drape of skin that hangs from me? – A.W.

ANSWER:
No, it wouldn’t. It could make it more pronounced.

The triplets stretched your skin beyond its elastic limits, and it cannot spring back to its normal size. It happens all the time to obese people who have a weight-loss operation.

The only way I know that the dangling fold of skin can be gotten rid of is by surgery.

Why not discuss this with the doctor who delivered your children? If he or she doesn’t do that kind of surgery, he or she will know a doctor who does.

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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