The Importance of Preventative Healthcare

Why is prevention important?

The importance of preventive medicine cannot be overstated. Diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are leading causes of disability and death in society. By diagnosing and treating such health conditions in their early stages, it can potentially avoid invasive and costly procedures in the future. Early diagnosis and prevention can enable people to lead longer, more functional lives.

What are the major risk factors leading to heart disease?

The major risk factors for heart disease are smoking, family history of heart disease or stroke, diabetes, poor lipid profile (high LDL and low HDL), hypertension, advanced age, and obesity. Chronic inflammation from infection, autoimmune disease, or oxidative stress has also been linked to heart disease.

What is included in a preventive wellness exam?

A preventive wellness exam starts with a thorough medical history, including personal medical problems, family history, and social history (smoking, alcohol, habits, living situation). Secondly, the doctor will perform a complete physical exam that includes blood pressure, pulse, and assessment of body mass index along with an EKG and a chest X-ray. The doctor will also collect blood for your complete blood count, a comprehensive metabolic panel, hemoglobin A1c, lipid profile, thyroid hormone, and vitamin-D levels. Other tests may be appropriate for patients with specific risk factors, including bone density assessment, measurement of prostate-specific antigen, exercise treadmill test, and ankle brachial index.

If I believe that I am at greater risk for a particular health condition because of my personal and family history, are there additional tests that I can request to assess my risk?

One optional screening test that can further evaluate the risk of stroke is a screening carotid artery ultrasound, which assesses for plaque buildup in the carotid arteries. The development of plaque in the carotid arteries a risk factor for stroke and can be mitigated by smoking cessation, cholesterol lowering, and blood pressure management. If diagnosed with plaque buildup in your carotid arteries, medication to lower cholesterol may be beneficial, even if your cholesterol levels are not alarmingly high. 

Patients with a long history of smoking are at increased risk for developing abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and may benefit from a non-invasive screening ultrasound to evaluate for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

An early colonoscopy and mammogram are recommended for patients with first-degree relatives with colon cancer and breast cancer respectively.

Finally, a body composition scan can measure percentage body fat and lean muscle mass and evaluate the distribution of fat within your body. This information is important because a high proportion of visceral abdominal fat has been linked to such health conditions as diabetes and heart disease.

I want to stay healthy, but I don’t want to have to take a lot of medications. Are there ways that I can stay healthy without taking prescription medication?

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best medicines available. A healthy lifestyle includes daily exercise, good nutrition, and the pursuit of interests that enrich your life. By increasing your daily exercise and adopting a diet that consists of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and minimizes refined sugars and fried foods, you can improve your cardiovascular risk profile. Also, doctors are increasingly realizing the connection between mind, body, and spirit. Emotional stress can increase your body’s inflammatory responses and increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. Addressing the emotional stressors in your life is an important first step in taking care of yourself. Talk to your doctor about your health concerns. The best regimen for your health is one that you and your doctor devise together and that focuses on your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. Taking good care of yourself doesn’t have to mean taking a lot of medication.

Dr. Kimberly Freeman specializes in Internal Medicine with an emphasis on wellness and preventive medicine with Wolf River Wellness. To schedule an appointment, call 901.767.5000 or go to Wolfriverwellness.com for more information.

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