Hey Doc, Should I Be Getting Regular Health Screenings?
Imagine you’ve won a grand prize dream vacation. Now, what if I tell you that somewhere on your journey, you are going to get ill or that your plane will crash? When would you want this information? Before you start packing? Before you get on the plane to depart? Before you accept your grand prize ticket? Or would you want to know after you arrive at your dream destination?
In health care, one can equate the disease process, especially chronic disease, to a plane crash on a “dream vacation.” With chronic illness, there are certain signs the body gives along the way depending on how far along on the “journey” one has traveled. Health care screenings allow us to take a peek into a person’s health status, determine their likelihood of heading toward an undesired goal, and quite possibly catch the disease in its earlier stages and make meaningful changes.
Just as there is a process to preparing for an upcoming trip, there is a process to an illness and the journey it makes before becoming clinically diagnosed. Why should you get regular health screenings? Because it gives you options:
Knowledge: Nobody wants to hear that they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease, but most still would prefer to know sooner rather than later. Knowledge is power, ignorance is not bliss.
Lifestyle Adjustments: In many cases, diseases and conditions can be prevented before their onset. The term is “primary prevention,” with examples including healthy diet, daily exercise, maintenance of a safe water and food supply, and application of safe and effective vaccines — all methods to help prevent diseases from obtaining a foothold in the body.
Preventive Screenings: Many chronic illnesses are preventable and can be caught in the earlier “pre-clinical” stages of the disease process. This is called “secondary prevention” with examples including preventive screenings such as the Pap smear for detecting early cervical cancer; routine mammography for early breast cancer; sigmoidoscopy for detecting colon cancer; periodic determination of blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels; and screening for high blood-lead levels in persons with high occupational or other environmental exposures.
Cure: Some illnesses may have progressed farther along the journey, where a diagnosis has been established. However, there can still be “cure,” also known as “disease management” for more common chronic illnesses. This is called “tertiary prevention,” with examples including the elimination offending allergens from asthmatic patients; routine screening for and management of early renal, eye and foot problems among diabetics; and prevention of reoccurrence of heart attack with anti-clotting medications and physical modalities to regain function among stroke patients.
Regular health screenings allow your health care provider the chance to see a disease progess as it is unfolding, giving you the chance to make changes along the way that may prevent or slow down manifestation of the disease.
Abigail Aiyepola, ND, LM, is a naturopathic physician, licensed midwife and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.