“No one is without knowledge except he who asks no questions.” ~ Ancient Proverb
play an incredibly powerful role in dictating the course of your health. As
discussed in the last post,
80% of chronic illnesses can be prevented through the lifestyle choices you
make each day. But making informed decisions requires deliberate self-awareness
and honesty. In addition to paying attention to diet and exercise, you can
build self-awareness through active health screening and education. A major key
to being proactive about your health is understanding your unique medical
your body and your health risks. Routine medical, dental, and visual screenings help create
a baseline profile of what’s normal for you. They may also help catch problems
at early stages, when they are often easier to treat. Recommended evaluations
may monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index, colorectal,
breast, cervical, and/or prostate health (1). These tests are
not just for primary prevention; they can help you follow ongoing concerns, so
you can control progression of existing conditions. Staying up to date on
immunizations, and practicing protective skin care are also important
strategies for preventing serious medical problems. How frequently you decide
to visit your doctor depends on your underlying health status and personal
Medical visits should not be restricted to physician visits. Dental appointments are also important for your overall health. Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is diagnosed in more than 3 million people each year in the US (2). This bacterial infection is associated with poor dental care, resulting in swollen, red gums, loose teeth, and increased oral sensitivity. There is an increased risk of gum disease if you smoke or have diabetes, so dental care is especially important in these cases. Perhaps surprisingly, periodontal disease is not just an issue for your mouth. It increases your risk of developing serious systemic problems, including rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease (3). This occurs because the bacteria that cause gum disease can move through your blood, affecting blood vessels in the heart and creating harmful blood clots.
Outside of scheduled appointments, self-examination and an ongoing awareness of your physical and emotional wellness are critical. Recommended monthly self-exams include breast, testicular, and skin checks. Any sudden or persistent changes, such as lumps, pain, color, swelling, or rashes, can help identify problems early, increasing the probability of treating and curing an illness. As an example, if a woman feels a lump in her breast, she should act immediately and see a doctor. If a cancer is diagnosed and restricted to the breast, her chance of surviving 5 years is almost 99% based on statistics for women in the US (4). However, the 5-year survival from cancer that has spread from the breast to distant organs falls to 27%. These statistics vary patient to patient but emphasize the importance of early detection. Detecting the cancer before it spreads makes a significant difference in survival.
the tremendous benefits of healthy lifestyle choices, our genetics are
intimately tied to our risk profile of developing medical conditions.
Therefore, to truly know your health risks, you must know your family history.
It’s particularly important to keep a record of medical problems among
first-degree relatives, meaning your parents, siblings, and children, since you
share substantial genetic overlap. The National Institutes of Health actually
recommends keeping a medical record for three generations of your family (5). The
idea is to be aware of medical patterns in your family, including diseases for
which you may have increased risk. It does not mean that you are going to develop
the disease, but it does suggest that you should be proactive about taking steps
to reduce your risk.
Understand your personal health record. A personal health record is a comprehensive set of your health information that you maintain and control. Everything about your health should be kept in this record. It may be a paper data set, electronic, or a combination. The information should be as complete as possible, including past and current illnesses, allergies, medications, health evaluations, surgeries, and family medical history. Ask your healthcare providers for records, such as images and reports, so you have them accessible when you want them. Having this record readily available is important for your peace of mind and that of your family. Simply creating the record is not enough; take steps to clearly understand everything in your record, including the side effect profiles of your medications, and how your medications interact with one another. Another advantage of having a personal health record is that you do not have to be dependent on your healthcare team for information. If you need information for work, travel, or a new doctor, you will have it available. If there’s an emergency, a family member can consult your record when contacting the hospital. Here is additional information to help you develop your personal health record.
lots of questions, and know where to look for information. Our knowledge is only as deep
as the quality and honesty of our questions. Ask openly about risk factors,
prevention strategies, health and fitness, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Even if your healthcare practitioner does not know the answer, he or she should
be able to guide you to an appropriate source. If you feel that your questions
are not being answered, or that you are being rushed, find a provider who will
support your health enough to address your questions. If you have concerns
about identifying credible written sources, ask your physician for advice.
Scholarly databases, such as the National Library
of Medicine, Medline Plus, and PubMed, are good places to
start. Check out this site
for great tips about credible sources of health information. When you read
health articles online, pay attention to the affiliations, credentials and
conflicts of interests of the website and author, as these may bias their
advice. Medical research evolves rapidly, so check the date on your article to
make sure you are reading the most recent information. It’s also useful to read
articles with referenced sources, so you can go back and check the original articles.
Checking multiple sites or articles for consistency of information, and
consulting with your physician for advice are important steps towards ensuring
that you can trust the information you are reading.
our next post, we’ll cover simple strategies for integrating greater levels of
balance and wellness into our lives.