Q. My son picked up an infection in the hospital recently. It sounded like the doctors were calling it “see-dift.” It gave him terrible diarrhea. Do you know what this is?
The doctors were referring to the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which is often called C. diff or C. difficile. There’s a good chance you’ll be hearing more about C. diff because infections are increasing throughout the world.
Q. I have Dupuytren’s contracture. It runs in my family. I think you should write a column about this because it affects older people.
Thank you for this suggestion. It got me researching hand disorders, a subject that has many colorful names for some nasty afflictions. Here are some of them:
Q. Over the years, I’ve been buying larger shoes. Could it be that my feet are getting bigger, or is it that I’ve gradually begun to prefer shoes with more room in them?
Feet do get bigger over decades of pounding. Some people over the age of 40 can gain half a shoe size every 10 years. I know my feet are larger than they used to be. I’ve gone from a 10½ shoe when I was a young adult, to a 12 in my geezer years.
The foot is a complicated machine. It contains 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments.
Q. Why do old men have big ears?
I didn’t believe the premise of this question. Well, it turns out that old men, and women, have bigger ears than they had as young adults. In short, your ears grow larger as you age. I know this sounds like a myth, but it’s been proven by scientific studies. Examples:
Researchers at the Veterans Administration Medical Center-Texas Tech University found that ear circumference increases an average of 0.51 millimeters per year.
Last of three parts
Because of better care, most heart-attack victims survive today. There are improved tests, drugs and surgery to defend against heart attack.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) records the heart’s electrical activity. This test is done because injured heart muscle generates abnormal impulses. If the ECG picks up abnormalities, physicians will know that a patient has had a heart attack or that one may be in progress. If you have a heart attack, there are heart enzymes that leak slowly into your blood. Physicians draw blood to test for the enzymes.
Second of three parts
A blood clot in a narrowed coronary artery is the usual cause of a heart attack. The clogged artery prevents oxygenated blood from nourishing the heart. This can lead to pain, the death of heart cells, scar tissue and fatal arrythmias. A variety of causes leads to the narrowing of arteries, which is called “atherosclerosis.” This, in turn, increases the likelihood of a heart attack. Here are some of the leading causes of heart attacks:
First of three parts
Q. If you think you’re having a heart attack, should you take aspirin?
A blood clot in a coronary artery narrowed by cholesterol and other substances is the usual cause of a heart attack. Aspirin keeps blood moving through constricted arteries. Paramedics may give aspirin when they respond to an emergency to treat a heart-attack victim.
Aspirin reduces mortality from heart attacks. Taking aspirin is a subject you should discuss with your doctor. Aspirin could hurt you if your symptoms are caused by a different health problem.
Q. I’m a 61-year-old woman and I’ve been experiencing some incontinence lately. A friend told me there are exercises I can do to help the situation. Do you know what she’s talking about?
First, talk to your doctor about the incontinence. Don’t begin any exercise program without a check-up.
Your friend is probably referring to “Kegel exercises,” which were developed 60 years ago by Dr. Arnold Kegel to control incontinence in women after childbirth. These exercises are now recommended for women and men who experience urinary or fecal incontinence.
Q. I watched a man fall unconscious on the sidewalk. A woman rushed up and started to do CPR on him and, later, I heard she may have saved his life. It made me sign up for a CPR course. You should tell your readers to take one of these courses.
If you would like to learn CPR, contact the American Heart Association at americanheart.org. Another CPR resource is the American Red Cross at redcross.org. Or, you can try a local hospital.
Q. I seem to get diarrhea more often now than I used to when I was younger. Any ideas why?
Before I offer you some general information about diarrhea, I urge you to see a doctor for a diagnosis. As I tell everyone who writes to me, I’m a journalist, not a physician.
Diarrhea is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, certain foods, medicines and diseases. Diarrhea is a common malady that usually lasts a day or two and goes away without treatment. In the United States, it’s second only to respiratory infections in reported illnesses.