By JAMIE LOBER
Building a relationship with a trusted physician can be the key benefit to preventive health care. Making small, regular decisions regarding one’s wellbeing and taking positive steps toward physical care can be compared to owning a vehicle. Just like maintaining a vehicle, a person must maintain his or her body. “Preventive care is steps you can take as early as possible when working with your physician to pinpoint risk factors such as illnesses that may run in your family along with habits that are unhealthy. This measure can help decrease chances of going on to develop chronic illnesses,” said Dr. Darshana Patel, internal medicine physician at Mt. Juliet Medical Associates.
Most recommendations are considered age specific. “When you are in your twenties, we make sure that your eating habits are healthy, check your activity level to make sure you are getting a lot of good exercise and talk about stress management,” stated Patel. With proper management, issues with obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure can almost always be avoided. A one-time baseline cholesterol check as well as behavioral screening for sexually transmitted diseases, is considered an essential part of health care.
Many health issues specifically affect only women. “If you are postmenopausal, you should have an osteoporosis screening,” stated the doctor. Yearly pap smears as part of screening for cervical cancer are also indicated. For a woman her thirties and forties, the physician begins to look at risk factors for breast cancer based on personal and family history. Screenings with a mammogram should begin at age forty or earlier if a family member has been diagnosed with the disease.
Statistics show that men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. Male-specific health issues often include cardiovascular disease along with high blood pressure, while the two most important screenings for men are considered prostate and colorectal cancers. Cholesterol levels should also be tested regularly, as cholesterol is a prime contributor to heart disease and diabetes.
For both men and women, regular checkups are essential for preventive health care. An important test is the skin cancer screening, especially for persons who spend a great deal of time outdoors. Another recommended yearly exam is a colonoscopy, which is advised above the age of fifty. Diabetes screening is also critical.
“One test is a snapshot of your blood sugar at the time of your visit. There is another test called the Hemoglobin ALC which gives an average of what your blood sugar has been formthe past three months,” said Patel. Combining those two things will determine if someone is diabetic or pre-diabetic and establish which treatment plan will best benefit the condition.
Weight is another common concern for both women and men. “Our idea of what is considered normal portion size is distorted because what someone is eating as one portion is usually a couple of portions, and they need to make changes,” stated Dr. Patel. Balance is the key for both males and females, with a person eating appropriate amounts of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Patients often cut carbohydrates from their diet in an attempt to become healthier, but it has the opposite effect. “Your body needs carbohydrates so skimping on any one of those things is not considered a healthy diet,” the doctor added. Understanding the difference between good and bad fats is helpful.
“People think of red meat as being bad for you, but what is in cheese is bad for you too, so you should change to low fat dairy products and lean meats, olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, avocado and fatty fishes that have omega-3,” informed Patel.
Guidance about other lifestyle choices is offered as well by your preferred health care provider. Exercise is essential to a healthy way of life, leading doctors encourage their patients to try to get moving. “A balance between doing aerobic exercise and light weights is what leads to the best maintenance of weight, bone strength and muscle mass in the future,” stated Patel.
Stress reduction can assist in maintaining good health. “A big part of stress is recognizing that you have it and not waiting until it manifests in physical symptoms like anxiety, chest pain and heartburn,” said Patel, adding, “the key is to take time out to do things that you enjoy.”
Some health issues have a tendency to have few or no symptoms that cause concern. “High blood pressure does not have symptoms unless it is severely high so it is a big danger and nicknamed ‘the silent killer’,” said Patel. Headaches are the most common related complaint, and Dr. Patel stated that it is treatable, and the earlier it is diagnosed, the less time it has to cause damage.
Dr. Patel stated that some patients rely on home remedies to address health concerns. “A lot of people make tea with ginger, honey and a little bit of lemon juice. With this you get the Vitamin C from the lemon juice and have honey and ginger which have antibacterial properties which helps settle your stomach or soothe your throat if you get a cold.”
It is also suggested to not forget about vaccines. “The tetanus vaccine is required every ten years, and you should get the influenza vaccine. If you have chronic illnesses or lung diseases, we recommend the pneumonia vaccine, and for those over sixty, we recommend the shingles vaccine,” the doctor said. Aside from getting immunized, hand washing is your best prevention. “Clean off things you share like telephones and doorknobs with antibacterial wipes,” Dr. Patel added.
Self-diagnosis is not suggested. “Information can become overwhelming so the doctor can walk through it with you and make sure you are getting correct information and understand everything,” said Patel. Be sure to ask questions and confirm that a source is credible.
“Be careful with following instructions you get online or even from friends or family without first discussing it with your primary care physician,” the doctor included.
Visiting your doctor is recommended at least once a year for a complete physical. “It is not just so that we can stay on top and give you the preventive care that you need, but also so you have an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider,” said Patel. Talk to your doctor about which preventive medical tests you need to stay healthy. A patient should feel comfortable when discussing their medical matters. “You should not be embarrassed and should feel that your questions and concerns are being heard and addressed appropriately,” Dr. Patel concluded.
Many conditions are treatable with early detection, and investing in preventive health care, with a trusted physician, is the key against the physical, emotional and financial costs that come with serious illnesses. These simple steps can lead to a long, healthy life.