DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Through a CT scan, I have been diagnosed with extensive diverticular disease. You’ve mentioned that a lack of fiber as the cause. All my adult life, I have eaten whole-wheat bread, lots of fruit and vegetables, and plenty of fiber. I can’t remember ever being constipated. I was shocked by the diagnosis. My maternal grandmother finally succumbed to it. Could I be genetically predisposed to it? Would eating yogurt containing live bacterial cultures provide any value? — B.S.
ANSWER: A diverticulum is a small bulge on the outer colon wall. It’s smaller than a small grape, being only about 0.4 inches (1 cm) in diameter. What’s bulging is the lining of the colon. High colon pressure pushes the colon lining through the colon’s muscle wall and onto its outer surface. The colon has to generate great force to move along undigested, hard and dry waste matter. Fiber keeps stool soft and moist.
In societies where grains are refined and where fiber is scant, diverticulosis is rampant. To give you an idea of how widespread diverticulosis is, 50 percent to 70 percent of the elderly population has it. I can’t explain why a fiber-conscious person like you developed extensive diverticulosis. I suppose there might be a genetic predisposition.
Keep in mind that most people with diverticulosis — 70 percent — never suffer a single symptom. If the diverticula become inflamed, then the condition is diverticulitis, and that is painful. Pain usually arises in the left, lower side of the abdomen, where most diverticula are found. People are feverish, lose their appetite and feel nauseated, but they rarely vomit. With a more severe attack, the temperature is quite high, and the abdomen becomes very tender. Sometimes an attack of diverticulitis is signaled by painless rectal bleeding.
Treatment involves resting the digestive tract by taking only clear fluids and antibiotics. For more serious attacks, hospitalization with intravenous fluids and antibiotics is required. You may never face these possibilities. Most people with diverticulosis never do. Yogurt will not help.
The pamphlet on diverticulosis gives a more lengthy discussion of this topic. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 502W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Three years ago, my husband had a pacemaker put in his chest. Since then he has anchored himself to his easy chair. He’s afraid to do anything that requires even slight exertion. He gets up, eats breakfast, reads the paper in his chair, comes to lunch, eats again, takes a nap, watches TV, eats dinner and goes back to his chair for the evening. This is living?
Will you talk some sense into him? — T.R.
ANSWER: Unless his doctor has told him not to do anything physical — and that would be most unusual advice — your husband’s inactivity harms his heart. He needs daily exercise, and a pacemaker isn’t a reason not to exercise. He can have his doctor verify this. Physical activity is one of the cornerstones of heart health and is as important as cholesterol control.
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.
©2009 North America Synd.