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Monday, Feb. 16, 2015


Canes, colonoscopies and pacemakers

Q: What kind of cane should I get?

A. First, get a cane that fits. Let your arm hang at your side. The top of your cane should line up with your wrist.

You can get an adjustable cane that can be expanded from about 31 inches 40 inches in 1-inch increments. With your cane in your hand, the bend in your elbow should be about a 30-degrees.

The old reliable “crook cane” is still very popular. Offset canes put your weight more directly over the shaft and are usually adjustable. There are also folding canes that are easy to store. Broad-base canes with three or four legs have greater stability and are good for people with balance problems. In addition, there are canes that come with folding seats.

Wood canes are light and resilient.

Aluminum canes are durable, adjustable and foldable. Graphite and fiberglass are very light and exceptionally strong.

Choose a handle that feels good. If you experience any numbness or pain in your hand, choose a different grip.

Check the weight limit. Typical canes can hold about 250 lbs.

Q: Is a colonoscopy painful?

A. I was given anesthesia for a colonoscopy, and all I recall is getting on the examining table, feeling like I had a cocktail, and waking up in recovery as rested as if I had a lateafternoon nap on the beach.

The colonoscopy is the gold-standard procedure for colon-cancer detection. The colonoscope is a slender, flexible, lighted tube with a video camera at its tip. The examining physician inserts the tube into the rectum. The scope inflates the colon to provide a better view. The camera sends pictures of the inside of the colon to a TV monitor. The exam takes 30 to 60 minutes.

During the procedure, a doctor can remove most abnormal growths such as polyps with tiny tools passed through the scope. Most polyps are benign, but some can turn into cancer. By getting the polyps early, a colonoscopy can avoid a major operation.

Patients are given pain medication and a moderate sedative. Discuss sedation with your doctor in advance. People I know who’ve had the procedure have experienced different degrees of alertness, recall and discomfort.

Q: Are pacemakers safe?

A. Modern pacemakers are stable devices that have builtin protection from most types of interference produced by everyday electrical appliances.

But there are still some precautions you should take if you’ve had one of these miraculous gizmos implanted in your chest. The following could be problems:

Power machines are dangerous. Stand at least two feet away from arc-welding equipment, high-voltage transformers and motor-generator systems.

Magnetic resonance imaging is a no-no if you have a pacemaker. In fact, any procedure that exposes you to electromagnetic energy is a problem. These procedures include therapeutic radiation, shockwave lithotripsy that breaks up large kidney stones, and electrocautery to control bleeding during surgery.

Short-wave or microwave diathermy uses high-frequency, high-intensity signals. These may interfere with a pacemaker.

Metal detectors at airports don’t interfere with pacemakers when you pass through them briefly. However, you should not hang around them for a long time or lean against them. And, if security personnel want to use a handheld metal detector, ask them to avoid your pacemaker.

Some sources say cell phones are harmless. However, others insist that you shouldn’t put your cell directly over your pacemaker because it’s possible that the pacemaker could misinterpret a phone signal, withhold pacing and make you feel tired. The old cliche is appropriate: better safe than sorry.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. Email questions to fredcicetti@gmail.com.


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