DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 84 years old. I had my first fatty tumor when I was 11. Through the years, I have had many, many removed, and I continue to get more. I have learned to live with this condition. I have children and grandchildren who are concerned that they have inherited this affliction. My mother and father had fatty tumors, and my brother and sister had a few. Is this passed to children? – M.S.

Those fatty tumors are lipomas, noncancerous growths of fat cells that spring up under the skin and range from golf-ball to tennis-ball size or larger. They can spring up anywhere, but they most often are found on the trunk, neck, forearms and under the arms. They’re soft and rarely painful. People might have a single lipoma or many of them.

In some cases, they are a family affair, and your family appears to be an example. A gene passed from an affected parent leads to lipomas in half the children of that parent.

If lipomas interfere with movement, hurt or are unsightly, they can be surgically removed. Some doctors have suctioned off the fat with a syringe and needle, similar to liposuction. Others have injected them with cortisone or deoxycholate.

If a lipoma grows rapidly, a doctor should inspect it. Infrequently, this kind of growth can be a liposarcoma, a cancer. This shouldn’t scare you. I mention it only for completeness. Liposarcomas are seldom seen.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In your medical column, a reader asked about irritable bowel syndrome. Like the reader, I suffered from IBS for many years. Because of it, I was a prisoner confined to my home.

A few years ago, I came upon an article written by a doctor who was experienced in treating IBS. He suggested using rifaximin. Researchers at a large medical center found it could control IBS for some people. I asked my family doctor if she would prescribe it for me. She said, “Why not?” and she did.

It was like a miracle. One course of treatment, and I was cured after 20 years of anguish, suffering and expensive treatments that did not work. I have a normal social life again. – D.F.

Rifaximin (brand name Xifaxan) is an antibiotic that stays in the digestive tract. It isn’t absorbed. It’s marketed for travelers’ diarrhea. As you say, some reputable doctors have used it for control of irritable bowel syndrome, an “off-label” use, something that is permitted but not FDA-approved. I am glad it worked so well for you. I can’t tell how many others it also might work for. Their doctors will have to agree to give it a try if they feel it is safe for their patients.

Restoring helpful bacteria to the digestive tract is another treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Such bacteria are called probiotics. One product is Align, manufactured by Procter and Gamble. It contains the bacterium called Bifidobacterium infantis. There are other such products.

Irritable bowel syndrome is an assortment of signs and symptoms, including stomach pain or discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or diarrhea alternating with constipation. X-rays, scans and lab tests reveal no abnormalities. It’s a difficult condition to have and to treat.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I read your column, I often see a question whose answer I wanted to know. It upsets me when you don’t answer the question asked. For example, a person said his potassium was low and the doctor told him to drink orange juice and eat bananas. The person asked how much and how many, but you didn’t specify. – A.W.

I didn’t specify because the point I wanted to make was that it is futile to try to correct a potassium deficiency without knowing its cause. The daily potassium requirement is 4,700 mg. A banana has 420 mg. It takes 11 bananas to provide that much of this mineral. How many bananas will actually raise blood potassium levels by one point is a question that cannot be answered. Too many individual factors come into play.

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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