Preventive Medicine refers to preventing medical illness and disease instead of treating a disease after it exists. I continue to be amazed at how many patients I see a day who are physically suffering from diseases that can be prevented (referred to as primary prevention) or at least managed better to have fewer complications (referred to as tertiary prevention). For a doctor this is an important and sometimes overlooked area of practicing good medicine. It’s becoming a more and more recognized part of quality medical care as people are searching for ways to provide good care at a more economical cost. There is even a new field of medical training referred to as preventive medicine. As a patient, I invite you to become more proactive in taking part in your own preventive medicine. YOU are the one that lives your life everyday! You know what you eat and what bad habits you have. Being honest with yourself and your doctor about the effect those habits can have on your health is the first step in looking for ways to stay as healthy as you can.
If our country successfully adopted healthy lifestyles and reduced the incidence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, our cost of medical care would plummet. Education about healthy diets does not seem to be working. I notice that taking a deeper look at what is driving people to turn to unhealthy food or physical inactivity despite their knowledge about what is good for them is more important. Studying the social determinants of health (for example, those that don’t believe they can afford healthier options or have transportation to get it) and the mental determinants of health (for example, poor coping skills causing a anxious person to turn to food for comfort) I believe is the answer. I invite you to take a look at your own life, what is holding you back from making the lifestyle changes you already believe you should make?
Addressing that is true preventive medicine.
What does it mean to you to be healthy? When so many are concerned with “being healthy,” perhaps it would be beneficial to take a look at what that actually is. Is it merely being free from any disease or ailments? Is it freedom from any physical suffering? Does it mean not having to take any vitamins, supplements or medications…ever? Does it mean you never have to go see a doctor? If we are not sure what the goal is, how will we ever get there?
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
“Physical, mental and social well-being.” Physical well-being involves taking care of the body you have to live your life in: nutrition, fitness, medical care. Mental well-being involves a balance of self responsibility and self love, appropriate coping mechanisms to assist you in dealing with stress, freedom from worry, learning you can be happy no matter what circumstance you are in. And finally, social well-being involves having meaningful relationships with healthy communication. When it comes down to it, life is about relationship with yourself and others.
Physical, mental and social well-being are intertwined together. So what do you think, are you healthy? I’ve noticed that if you work on mental well-being first, the rest tends to fall into place.
Next post: how preventive medicine addresses physical, mental and social well-being.
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.