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Wed, 20th January 2016
 

A thousand gall bladders are removed each week from suffering patients in Britain and about half that number in Australia. It's a heck of a lot, and the pain scale is often over the top. Between 10 and 15 per cent of the population develop stones but the good news is new technology is now making an impact. "Natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery" has already started and will probably take over from todays standard "keyhole surgery".

NO CUTS

No cuts, no external wounds and probably in and out of hospital within 24 hours. Wow! Risks increase with age. Also in women, who naturally produce oestrogen which increases risks of cholesterol stones forming in the gall bladder which stores bile salts, necessary for digestion. Tiny stones are worst, as they can readily jam the narrow canal which carries the fluid to the bowel. Genetics, diabetes, pregnancy and overweight can all play a part. If the bile duct is completely obstructed, stuff called bilirubin collects and may cause jaundice. Severe pain may occur under the right rib cage, and spread to the back or shoulder. It may be recurring or very severe and unrelenting, the latter needing emergency management.

PAIN

The pain history is critical to diagnosis. Most are clearly picked up on ultrasound, which is a harmless investigation tool. Today, surgical removal is advised, for recurrences are inevitable. Keyhole surgery was invented twenty years ago and is currently the standard. Placing endoscopic tubes down the throat into the rectum or vagina to reach and remove the gall bladder are already being carried out and are the way of the future. Avoiding fatty foods, eating more high fibre foods (cereals, fruit, veggies) are recommended. Whatever procedure is used, the internal wound must heal, and this may take several weeks.

 
THE PINK DISEASE

Q: 

When a child my parents said I had pink disease. Was there a Dr Pink like a Dr Spock?

A: 

Pink disease was common in infants until the cause was discovered in a Sydney childrens hospital. It was caused by mercury contained in teething and settling powders, widely used at the time. In fact, the child was being poisoned and any mercury product has been banned ever since. It caused the skin to turn pink, the infant to double up in pain, hate light, whimper and be generally miserable. Which of course, often led to more medication making it even worse. At the time it was heralded as a great Australian discovery, a bit like german measles causing congenital defects in infants.

 
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DISEASE MONGERING

Q: 

We constantly hear of weird symptoms and diseases being cured by some magical potion.

A: 

The current medical term for this is "disease mongering", and "widening the boundaries of treatable illness to expand markets for those who profit from treatments", often pharmaceutical houses, the British Medical Journal recently told its doctor readers. Media outlets and doctors are constantly blitzed with stuff from PR companies claiming more and more symptoms that may be relieved by certain medications. Usually the good side is promoted, with adverse effects quietly omitted.

 
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SWEET TOOTH

Q: 

Mum loves sweets. I love sweets. We both have crook teeth. Is this a family predisposition?

A: 

These days, nearly everything seems to be inherited from parents or grandparents. Now, it is claimed "sweet tooth" comes from "chromosome 16p11.2 ". Whatever is in the family tree, it is inevitable some of the genes will track down to future generations. Amazingly there are only about 40,000 genes, not the billions once believed. It is also incredible that such vital tendencies can grow from a bit of protein only visible under the microscopes. Also a bit worrying that the apes have almost the same number as humans, simply minus a few. Sweets are usually sticky leading to formation of gunky stuff on the teeth leading to decay.

 
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ICE

Q: 

Why are teenagers so attracted to ice, or meth as the Americans call it.

A: 

Peer group pressure is the main reason youngsters try anything that is different or that will give a mental kick. Methamphetamine has been around for years, is readily available, causes enormous euphoria and very rapid addiction. Once on it, it's very hard to stop. How to avoid? No sure fire formula, but parental education from an early age helps, for kids mimic and parents are the original role model. Constant open discussion helps, as does keeping their minds and hands occupied. Engaging with the kids as much as possible with positive ideas helps.

 
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MILD STROKE

Q: 

I sustained a mild stroke fortunately with no serious consequences. I have decided to use ginko biloba, but my GP says not to take alternate medicine.

A: 

With a vessel in the brain jamming up with a clot or bursting once means it will all happen again. Next time it may be fatal or cause paralysis. Western medicine goes for thinning the blood, usually with small daily aspirin or clopidogrel (Iscover) or similar product. Severe cases may need warfarin but this needs regular INR blood tests. Ginko has been used for centuries, but I agree with your doctor. Today, western medicine has many answers, and results can be readily monitored and evaluated. Just the same, for non critical disorders, traditional medicine has a lot to offer.

 
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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.

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