If you dread the doctor because you fear he or she will one day tell you you have a chronic disease, well, that’s pretty understandable. After all, chronic disease is the leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC. What you may not understand, however, is that those trips to the doctor — particularly your annual check-ups and physicals — can help you prevent many chronic diseases — or keep them at bay for a long, long time.
Many chronic diseases are either caused by or correlated with unhealthy diets, infrequent exercise, poor lifestyle choices like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption and — you guessed it — a lack of preventive medical care. In fact, many of the deadliest chronic diseases can be prevented by good lifestyle habits and proper preventive care.
Although many people live normal, happy lives with diabetes, it’s a dangerous disease, particularly when it goes undiagnosed. Fortunately, with the right preventive care and optimal lifestyle habits, type 2 diabetes is also preventable. Aside from your regular checkups, you should see a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of diabetes, which, according to The American Diabetes Association, include extreme thirst, extreme hunger, frequent urination and blurry vision.
By maintaining a healthy diet and ensuring you get regular exercise, you can decrease your chances of developing diabetes. If you’re a smoker, quitting will also help, as smoking raises your risk by as much as 30 to 40% according to the CDC.
Your primary care provider can provide diabetic screening tests annually to determine your risk, as well as identify any problems with your overall health. Additionally, healthcare professionals can also diagnose prediabetes — when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but do not yet indicate type 2 diabetes — which may motivate you to take preventive measures more seriously.
Heart attack and stroke
There’s a reason the old saying “serious as a heart attack” gets so much use. Heart disease is a very serious issue and it’s claiming millions of lives every year. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, while stroke sits at no. 5.
Like diabetes, the best way to prevent heart disease, which includes various cardiovascular issues that cause chest pain, heart attack and stroke, is by living a healthy lifestyle – and getting regular preventive care. CardioSmart recommends quitting smoking, as this tightens your arteries, causing your heart to work harder. Additionally, smoking can also cause irregular heart rhythm and high blood pressure, both of which contribute to your risk of stroke.
Other lifestyle factors that reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke include eating a healthy diet, managing stress, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping your routine health check-ups.
Your primary care provider can identify risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, high blood glucose levels and a high body mass index (BMI). If you have an elevated risk for developing cardiovascular disease, your healthcare provider can provide further tests and screenings to help you prevent a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular issues.
It’s the diagnosis everyone fears, and for good reason; nearly 40 percent of men and more than 37% of women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. That said, many types of cancer can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices, and many more can be treated successfully with early detection.
Harvard Medical School identifies smoking and tobacco use, obesity and diet, lack of exercise and workplace carcinogens among top risk factors causing cancer. By eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding carcinogens (including tobacco!), you can reduce your risk of a scary diagnosis.
Harvard further recommends getting regular check-ups and screening tests that catch cancer before symptoms start to show up. Talk to your doctor about screening tests recommended for your age and gender. Additionally, if you experience any of the American Cancer Society’s general symptoms of cancer, see your doctor right away.
If you’ve never known someone who died from — or even suffered from — diphtheria, polio or measles, well, that’s likely because vaccines have been doing a good job preventing these diseases for several decades now. According to the World Health Organization, immunizations prevented at least 10 million deaths and innumerable hospitalizations between 2010 and 2015 alone.
If you thought vaccinations were just for children, think again. The CDC recommends adults get regular vaccinations to prevent many deadly diseases, including tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), shingles, pneumococcal disease and seasonal influenza. Additionally, if you have never been vaccinated for human papillomavirus (which can cause cancer), meningococcal disease, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, measles, mumps and rubella, it’s not too late. Talk to your healthcare provider about vaccinations recommended and available to you.
If suffering from chronic disease isn’t in your future plans, proper preventive care should be on your to-do list. For more information on improving your health or to find a primary care provider, visit SelectHealth.