A few weeks ago, a middle-aged woman came to our community free clinic for consultation. She was leaning heavily on her cane as she struggled to walk and was a bit short of breath. She had only one request, "Doc, I've this severe pain in the knees for the past few months. Can you give me a pill and make it go away?"
She was quite obese, tipping the scales at 287 pounds, with a body mass index of 45. Indeed, both her knees were quite swollen and painful — tell-tale signs of severe osteoarthritis, no doubt contributed by her morbid obesity and lack of exercise. She also turned out to have uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes, expected complications of her lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this kind of profile fits many patients we see in our practice. Many also suffer from the ravages of chronic cigarette smoking and some have alcoholism. And all of them want a quick–fix remedy for their complex medical problems that have been developing slowly over many months or years. The sad part is that a lot of them do not have any insurance or even basic resources to procure the needed medicines. They don't go to the emergency room because of prohibitive expenses. And by the time they do go, their diseases are often quite advanced, needing extensive testing and treatment, besides the risk for their personal health.
This brings me to the main points of this discussion. There is nothing called a single cure-all pill, a panacea for all ailments. Secondly, let's not use our health-care system — hospitals, medical office or free clinics — only when sick. They are to be used as health and wellness resources for the prevention of illnesses as much as possible.
The majority of ailments that plague our society today like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease are, to a significant extent, influenced by our lifestyle. So, if people can be a little more pro-active in regards to their health, they can lead a better life.
Do you know if we can put an end to cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco abuse in America, the incidence of cancer will drop by 50 percent? Imagine the impact of such a simple change in lifestyle on your health? Along with that, if we can encourage people to eat healthy, exercise regularly and control the obesity epidemic in America, we can cut down the incidence of many of the common diseases, or at the very least delay their onset.
Lifestyle is the key to your health and everyone should take an active role in it. Think of the old adage, "an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure" Make a few simple changes like taking a walk after meals instead of sitting to watch sitcoms, going meatless a couple of days a week (vegetarians have less body fat than meat eaters), cutting back on sugar and sweets (important to control diabetes) and going easy on salt to improve hypertension. You'll be surprised at your gains.
Concrete benefits come to those who have the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Since everybody is into technology these days, there are some popular health and wellness apps that can help you to identify the seriousness of your symptoms and suggest where to go for treatment.
The New Year is here and every person should resolve to take an active interest in his or her own health and embrace the concept of prevention. This is the key to create a happier and healthier future while simultaneously reducing the ever-escalating health-care expenditure of our nation.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan is a Hernando County cardiologist and the author of Stories from My Heart.'