DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Our 16-year-old grandson has come down with ulcerative colitis. Isn’t this unusual at age 16? We aren’t well informed about this illness and would deeply appreciate any information you have. How will this affect his life – his growth and the length of life? Is there a cure? Surgery was mentioned at one time. It has been brought up recently. Does surgery cure it? – M.L.

With ulcerative colitis, the surface of the colon – the last 4 to 5 feet of the digestive tract – is covered with superficial sores, or ulcers, like the kind of sores one gets from severely skinned knees. The ulcers are painful and can bleed. The signs of ulcerative colitis, therefore, are bloody diarrhea and crampy abdominal pain. The actual cause of the illness hasn’t been found, but the immune system is implicated in its genesis.

Sixteen isn’t an unexpected age to be stricken. About 20 percent of ulcerative colitis patients are teenagers or younger.

Although there isn’t a cure medicine as yet, control medicines, especially some of the newer ones, have made the illness a less formidable threat than it once was. One of the cortisone drugs usually is the first medicine used to quiet the inflamed colon and allow the ulcers to heal. As soon as control has been established, cortisone medicine is changed to other medicines that have fewer side effects.

Surgical removal of the colon does end the illness but, when possible, doctors try to save colon removal as a last step, when medicines fail to achieve control or when the colon has become so severely damaged that healing is impossible.

Your grandson should live a long, productive life. Most ulcerative colitis patients do. They are found in all fields – medicine and professional sports included.

One ominous aspect of ulcerative colitis is the possibility of colon cancer appearing. Because of that, patients are scheduled for scope examinations of the colon at specified intervals.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and have worn a wrist splint for three weeks. The pain is much better, but the doctor thinks I would benefit from surgery. He insists I take a test involving needles and an electric shock. Is all this necessary? I am completely satisfied with the way things are going right now. – H.M.

For readers who haven’t heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s a frequently occurring condition in which a large nerve that passes from the forearm into the hand is squeezed as it passes through a tunnel in the wrist. The tunnel is composed of bones and ligaments. Any inflammation of the tunnel narrows it, and compression of the nerve causes pain in the fingers and can cause hand and finger weakness. Resting the wrist by using a splint is a standard treatment.

If you’re satisfied with the way things are going, tell the doctor. Unless the hand and finger muscles are getting weaker, there’s no rush for surgery.

The test your doctor suggested is a nerve conduction velocity study. A small jolt of electricity is passed into the nerve in the upper arm, and the speed with which it reaches the wrist is recorded. Pressure on the nerve delays its travel time. Some insurers require this test before they will approve surgery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is there anything illegal or medically harmful in cutting tablets in half? My medicine comes in two strengths, and both strengths cost the same amount of money. I can get twice the number of tablets for the same price by cutting the stronger-strength tablet in half. – R.Z.

There’s nothing illegal in doing that, and there’s no medical reason not to do it. Unless it is extremely important that you take a very precise amount of medicine would there be hesitation to give you permission to do so. You should consult your doctor, but I am positive the doctor will go along with your idea. Many people do exactly what you plan to do.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I use Miacalcin for osteoporosis. Why haven’t you mentioned it? – J.A.

ANSWER: It’s an oversight on my part. Miacalcin is an excellent drug for osteoporosis. It is available as a nasal spray or a self-administered injection, the same kind that diabetics use for administering insulin.

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

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