Q. I had a terrible scare last week. After a bowel movement I looked in the toilet and saw a huge amount of what I assumed was blood. It was bright red and colored the entire bowl.
I immediately called my doctor and the receptionist added to my fears by telling me I needed to come in right away for tests. I have never had hemorrhoids so I began worrying about colon cancer.
When I saw my physician, the first thing he asked me was what I had eaten the day before. Nothing came to mind until he asked about beets. Sure enough, I had a big serving of beet salad at a potluck. My doctor tested me for blood and assured me there was nothing to worry about. Why do beets do this?
A. Beets contain the pigment betacyanin, which is notorious for passing through the digestive tract and producing a red stool. Animal research suggests that beets may help protect against colon cancer and also lower cholesterol.
Q. I am looking for a list of Latin abbreviations such as bid or q4h used in prescriptions. I want to be able to make sense of my doctor’s instructions.
A. Put “Latin,” “abbreviations” and “drugs” into a Google search. You will find Web sites galore. You can also find a translation in our book, The People’s Pharmacy.
Q. I saw an ad for Tylenol that suggested other pain relievers might interfere with effectiveness of blood pressure medicine. I take Zestril and Bayer aspirin. How does aspirin affect my medication?
A. The interaction between aspirin and ACE inhibitors like Accupril, Prinivil, Vasotec or Zestril has been quite controversial. Some studies have shown blood pressure may not be controlled as well when a person relies on aspirin or other anti-inflammatory pain relievers. This combination is dangerous for people with congestive heart failure.
Low doses of aspirin (less than 160 mg) don’t seem to interact. Please discuss this issue with your physician.
Q. My family doctor is concerned about my low bone density. He says I should be on hormones, Fosamax and Evista for osteoporosis.
My gynecologist says absolutely no HRT because of a family history of breast cancer. I feel caught in the middle and don’t know what to do. Any information you can send would be helpful. I don’t want to end up with a hip fracture like my grandmother, but breast cancer is equally frightening.
A. The role of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has changed radically in the last year. Estrogen plus progestin was once the gold standard for preventing osteoporosis.
Many physicians now believe HRT should be reserved to relieve hot flashes for a short period of time. A new study in the JAMA (Oct 1, 2003) concludes that even though HRT reduces fractures, overall this therapy causes more harm than benefit.
Evista and Fosamax can each strengthen bone and prevent fractures. They work in different ways, so some experts believe these drugs may be useful together. Evista has the added benefit of reducing the risk of breast cancer.
We are sending you our Guides to Osteoporosis and Estrogen: Benefits, Risks and Interactions so you will be better prepared to discuss these issues with both of your doctors. Anyone who would like copies, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. WU-52, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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