Health Tips for Seniors

Archive for October, 2006

Diseases of the Colon

The colon

The colon, or large intestine, consists of the final five feet of the intestine and measures about one-fifth of the entire intes-

Fig. 88. The pathway of food within the abdomen includes a small storage depot-the stomach; a digesting and absorbing tract-the small intestine; and the collecting, condensing and excreting mechanism-the colon. The stomach and colon are subject to many diseases; the small intestine relatively few.

tinal tract. Its primary function is the condensing of residue as it nears the anus for the final defecation of this waste material. Defecation is mostly an automatic mechanism, but as is well-known, this reflex easily can be subdued and controlled by the will. Very little regard is given to the colon for its contribution to routine civilized living, however, there is obvious truth in the saying, “civilization itself is founded upon an intact sphincter of the colon.”

Appendicitis. The appendix, attached to the first portion of the colon, has gained great notoriety in people of the upper age group. Usually we think of appendicitis as occurring in children and young adults, and this thinking is correct. People under forty years of age have four out of every five cases of appendicitis,


Fig. 89. Appendicitis still claims over 2000 lives annually in the United States. It occurs most often in youth but is far more dangerous and produces most of its fatalities in senior years.

and less than one in a hundred die. However, one out of every five cases of appendicitis is found in people over forty years of age, and in this age group are found three-fourths of all deaths from appendicitis. This forces the conclusion that appendicitis is about twelve times more dangerous if we should have it after the age of forty years.

As if to prove this, approximately 2,500 United States citizens die each year from appendicitis, and most of the deaths occur between the ages of sixty-four and seventy-four years. Although appendicitis is much more common in youth, it is obviously much more serious in later years because:

1. The aged appendix has a much weaker defense mechanism than it had in youth, and the infection develops much faster and more seriously.

2. The appendix, which is not difficult to recognize in youth, is usually labeled “atypical,” in later life, and the usual symptoms of appendicitis are much harder to recognize.

3. We grow accustomed to aches and pains here and there. Many of these difficulties are well tolerated with a little patience, but a serious attack of appendicitis may hide among these every-day irritations until irreparable dam
age is done, and treatment is futile.

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Diseases of the Liver – Hepatitis, Cirrhosis

Hepatitis. Often caused by a virus, hepatitis is an infection of the liver in which painful swelling of the liver may be felt on the right side. It is a disease which may have a long course to recovery, with an uncertain future, but most patients eventually make a recovery. This disease has a slow onset, and is accompanied by a usual fever, a distinct loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Jaundice also frequently occurs with hepatitis, a disease which demands the very best of medical care.

Cirrhosis of the Liver. Although cirrhosis is about the best-known liver disease, it is still poorly understood. The liver has a roughened, hobnail appearance which was formerly thought to be the direct result of chronic alcoholism. As its cause still remains a mystery, it may exist undetected for many years.

Fig. 87. Cirrhosis of the liver creates a hob-nailed appearance and leathery texture. Sometimes connected with chronic alcoholism, the disease means eventual destruction of the liver and death.

Occasionally, swelling of the abdomen from an accumulation of watery fluids within may arouse the patient’s suspicion that something is wrong. At other times sudden vomiting of large amounts of blood from a ruptured, enlarged vein within the stomach is the first indication of disease. In the late stage of cirrhosis, blood cannot circulate easily through the liver and is forced to find and build new channels through which to flow. Large veins can then be seen on the surface of the abdomen and the skin covering the chest wall of these individuals. Cirrhosis usually is diagnosed after it has existed a long time, and is then considered incurable but the physician can usually prolong life comfortably through medication, blood transfusions, diet, and other measures.

Obscure Liver Disease. Other diseases of the liver are commonplace, but they are poorly understood and difficult to recognize even by experienced physicians. Continued study of liver function and disease is being carried on constantly in many medical research programs.

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