President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared February as National Heart Month back in 1964. Despite all awareness efforts, heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 80 percent of these deaths can be prevented through lifestyle changes and proper medical management.
Which leads us to prevention, prevention, prevention. Perhaps the three most important words in medicine. Categorized as primary prevention (preventing an illness), secondary (detecting illness before symptoms develop), and tertiary prevention (minimizing harm from existing illness).
We all know that phrase coined by Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so follow some simple medical advice, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and do the recommended preventive health care screenings. Not sure what those are? Read on – as early detection and intervention provide great defense against illness and its potential misery.
Primary prevention involves controlling modifiable risk factors and may reduce illness through maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining optimal weight, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, minimizing alcohol intake, managing stress, and getting adequate, good quality sleep. Make certain you are up to date on recommended vaccinations as well.
Addressing modifiable risk factors with your healthcare provider can narrow your focus on any areas of concern, while also considering your current health status and family history. Many employers offer worksite wellness programs made easily accessible through our handy smartphones.
Secondary prevention, or early detection of disease before it shows any symptoms, is free through your insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Always check your insurance plan, as there can be exceptions to the no-cost rule if you are seeking care out of network or have a plan that has been grandfathered in.
This tier of prevention includes screening for diseases such as breast or colon cancer, counseling on lifestyle choices such as smoking or needed dietary changes and testing for things such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both risk factors in heart disease. Recommended screenings obviously differ between the sexes and as we age. Your health care provider will advise you what is due and when.
Early detection saves lives and can improve quality of life.
Tertiary prevention involves the management of existing disease to control complications and focuses on treating illnesses to maintain optimal health. For example, working with your physician to prevent vision loss from retinopathy in those with diabetes, or optimizing your blood pressure control to prevent heart failure or stroke in those with high blood pressure.
No matter where you fall in this range, make 2023 the year you take charge of your health. Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss your health risks and any recommended screenings.
Dr. Aram Neuschatz is an inpatient medicine specialist at Lutheran Medical Center.