DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. I think I might have some symptoms, along with other family members. Can you please give me some information on celiac disease and what foods I can eat and what ones I must avoid? – J.K.

ANSWER:
Not so many years ago, celiac disease was considered an exotic diagnosis. It is now recognized as a common illness. Many people who had been told they had irritable bowel syndrome have turned out to have celiac disease.

The problem is the digestive tract’s sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in many grains. In sensitive people, gluten disrupts the absorption of many nutrients and brings on a host of symptoms. Weight loss is one prominent symptom. Diarrhea is another. Celiac patients complain of stomach bloating and stomach cramps. Since vitamin D and calcium are poorly absorbed, celiac patients can develop brittle bones. Impaired absorption of vitamin K leads to easy bruising. Iron can’t get to the bone marrow because the intestine blocks its passage into the blood. Anemia develops.

These signs often are not full-blown for many years. During this period, people don’t feel quite right, but they don’t realize how bad they have felt until they are treated and feel so much better than they did.

The treatment is avoidance of gluten. That means staying away from wheat, barley and rye, and all the hidden places those grains are found. Don’t, however, put yourself on the diet. You and other relatives should first be tested for the illness. Going on the diet now can throw off the validity of celiac-disease tests, and you’ll never know if you truly have the illness. There is a genetic influence in this illness.

Once the diet is begun, most celiac patients notice a dramatic turnaround in their health in about one month. The diet isn’t easy to understand. People need professional help to grasp the essentials. The Celiac Disease Foundation helps people become familiar with the disease and its diet. The foundation’s address is: 13251 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1, Studio City, CA 916040, and its Web site is: www.celiac.org.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Eighteen months ago, while sleeping, my arms and legs shook violently. I stayed asleep while it was happening, but my husband woke and observed the whole thing. He took me to the hospital, and I was admitted for observation. During the hospitalization, I had brain-wave tests, many brain scans, X-rays and a spinal tap. All the tests were normal. No definite diagnosis was made. What do you think I had? – R.C.

ANSWER:
I’d say you had a seizure.

Brain seizures are sudden discharges of electrical activity in the brain. Often tests – even the brain-wave test, an EEG, electroencephalogram – can be normal.

Many people have one seizure without ever having another. In the meantime, there isn’t anything you can do to prevent a seizure from happening.

I wouldn’t dwell on this. It can make you a nervous wreck. You’ve gone a full year-and-a-half without a repeat seizure. That’s a good sign.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been told that sleeping pills can affect your memory and can cause Alzheimer’s disease. I am 78, and sometimes I find it hard to fall asleep. When that happens, I take a temazepam, and it helps me very much. Is what I have been told true? – R.

ANSWER:
Your medicine, temazepam (Restoril) is a member of the benzodiazepines. One of the other members of that family, Halcion, has been noted to cause antegrade memory loss in some users, particularly those who take it when on an overnight flight to fall asleep. Some of them wake up unable to learn new things (antegrade amnesia). It’s not a permanent condition, but it is disconcerting. I can find no information that says temazepam causes a similar memory loss.

No drug of this family causes Alzheimer’s disease.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband and I are expecting our first babies (twin sons) in a few weeks. For social, not religious reasons, he thinks our sons should be circumcised. I’m not sure I agree about putting our sons through this procedure. Would you please list the advantages and disadvantages of circumcision? – E.R.

ANSWER:
Circumcision, a rite adopted by some religions, gained popularity as a medical procedure in Victorian times because it was believed to promote health benefits. It has never been widely practiced throughout the world, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the benefits of circumcision are not significant enough to recommend it as a routine procedure. Circumcision offers some protection against AIDS infection and infection with the genital wart virus, but there are more effective ways of avoiding both.

I don’t know what your husband means by “social reasons” for the operation. Aside from religious and ethnic customs, there are no strong indications for 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. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com


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