Ask the Doctor: muscle spasms, histoplasmosis and hemorrhoids

Dr. Rob Riley joins us each week from the South Bend Clinic. Here are his responses from August 13th.

Tina: What underlying medical conditions cause night muscle spasms (even if you drink plenty of water to prevent them)?

Nighttime muscle cramps are really common and can be quite painful and disruptive to sleep. Fortunately, a significant underlying medical condition--like hyperparathyroidism causing high calcium levels--is only rarely the cause. Some of us just seem to be prone to this. High levels of exertion during the day, particularly in the heat may increase one’s risk. As our viewer suggests, making sure you get plenty of fluids, particularly during the summer months, may be helpful for some people. There’s also some evidence to suggest a regular leg-stretching program before bedtime can be helpful. B vitamin supplements have been tried with only modest success. If all of these simple measures fail, seeing your doctor is reasonable to make sure you don’t have one of the rare medical causes. There are also a few prescription medications which may be helpful.

Audi: Can you get histoplasmosis from having pet birds or any other pets?

Histoplasmosis is a lung infection caused by a fungus. It’s actually pretty common in this part of the country, but we don’t diagnose it very often because most people either have a short illness that gets better by itself or maybe no symptoms at all. While birds can carry the fungus, the risk of getting the infection from a pet bird is really low. The most common way humans are infected is from inhaling soil that contains the fungus. So farmers, landscapers, and some construction workers are at the highest risk. People with pet birds still do need to be careful when handling the bird droppings, however, because there are some other infections that are more commonly transmitted to humans in this way.

Todd: Do hemorrhoids cause cancer?

There are two kinds of hemorrhoids—internal and external. The external ones cause bumps around the outside of the anus and they hurt if they get irritated. A blood clot can form in these sometimes and that’s pretty painful. Internal hemorrhoids don’t hurt but they can bleed if they get irritated by hard stool or excessive straining. Fortunately, hemorrhoids tend to be more of a nuisance than a threat. Specifically, they do not cause cancer. There are some over the counter and some prescription medications which can help with any discomfort, and we encourage people with hemorrhoid problems to drink plenty of fluids and have a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help keep the stools soft. There are some office procedures to treat some hemorrhoids that don’t respond to these simple measures. Fortunately, surgery is only rarely needed.