Ten Little Known Facts About Managing Disease

Confusing Health & Healthcare

In Managing Disease

Health (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Mainstream medicine has proven woefully inadequate at managing disease despite its relative success in treating urgent medical conditions with often life-saving results.

This failure to better manage chronic medical conditions helps explain why 75% of America’s healthcare spending is for chronic medical conditions that are largely mismanaged.

It’s this mismanagement that threatens the financial futures of our families, businesses and America itself. This may once have been considered hyperbole. No longer.

It’s clear that our healthcare system has no good answers for this conundrum. That leaves it up to us to find our own solutions, our own uniquely personal ways of managing disease – while we still can.

Who’s The Boss?

Becoming CEO of the rest of your life, as I call it, requires a Personal Action Plan that’s essential for managing disease. It should be based on your individual risks for disease and disability, as well as any you may have already incurred. 

Medical conditions you may already have likely increase your risk for other medical conditions, called complications of disease.  Diabetics, for example, are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases. Cancer patients are at increased risk for heart disease caused by their treatments – and so on.

Those with a diagnosed medical condition understandably focus almost exclusively on their diagnosed condition and the recommended medical interventions to treat it. There’s considerable evidence, however, that a broader approach to managing disease that incorporates proven lifestyle behaviors will enhance recovery and help prevent further complications.

This doesn’t necessarily mean “new-age” alternative bromides are necessary for managing disease more effectively. Old-fashioned diet and exercise, rest and stress reduction are fundamental pillars of disease prevention and recovery – and there’s nothing new-age about them.

As noted, 75% of our healthcare spending in America is for chronic diseases reaching epidemic proportions. Most are due to poor lifestyle choices – chiefly a sickening American diet (or SAD diet) and record levels of physical inactivity.

But other factors play huge roles as well, especially poor sleep habits and unprecedented stress levels. This includes both physical stress – think of the cumulative toxic load from your environment, consumer products, medications and medical radiation – and psychological stress from our fragile economy and anemic employment prospects.

The idea is to tailor the medical and lifestyle behaviors most proven to extend your longevity and improve your quality of life to your own program for managing disease.

To do so, you need to understand the greatest threats to your health – and they’re not necessarily those promoted by screening programs and TV commercials. It also helps to understand how the disease process is thought to unfold for many of the chronic diseases that threaten your future well-being, medically and financially (see “Understanding Disease and Disease Risk” for more on this).

Living – or Dying?

Our living conditions could hardly be more conducive to disease. Record levels of obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and a host of other lifestyle-driven diseases are evidence that this is fact and not a debatable theory.

And mainstream medicine’s approach of drugs and procedures – while sometimes appropriate – often compounds the problem of managing disease more effectively.

That’s because drugs and procedures can cause disease as well as treat it.

And as you age, your body’s ability to process and eliminate the excess chemicals that drugs leave in your body declines.

This leaves you with a greater toxic load of residual chemicals in your body, especially with American medicine’s aggressive reliance on multi-drug (“polypharmacy”) treatment regimens.

This creates the ironic situation in which one of your biggest disease risk factors as you age is medications themselves – especially in combination. This is discussed in detail in Our Healthcare Sucks.

The objective in managing disease isn’t to analyze every possible risk for disease – an obviously impossible task – but rather to create a sensible framework for considering which risks most pertain to you and your family. This can help you avoid over-medication and its attendant risks.

This isn’t something mainstream medicine does very well. Responding to disease symptoms is what medicine does best, although even that often works counter to managing disease more effectively (again, see Our Healthcare Sucks to remove any doubts about this).

Re-Thinking Disease
and Your Healthcare Needs

Our best option as patients and consumers is to adopt a proactive thought process for better understanding and preventing disease before we need aggressive medical interventions. If we don’t, we’ll remain subject to how our doctors prefer for preventing and managing disease – a high-risk approach loaded with pitfalls for the unsuspecting.

The trend in mainstream medicine now is to prescribe more medications for the prevention of disease as well as for its treatment. You may already know my take on this dangerous trend. Medications make the most sense for treatment, not prevention, of disease – although there are exceptions.

So why do our doctors prescribe them so freely – and why do we patients take them so willingly?

The reasons for the former are complex and revolve in no small measure around preserving and enhancing physician incomes by keeping office visits brief. The reasons for the latter are also complex, but are rooted in our lack of education about disease processes and the risks of medical interventions.

Too many of us prefer to remain ignorant of those risks so we can continue to freely subject ourselves and our loved ones to medical interventions – often with total, if unintentional, disregard for their potential adverse consequences. We convince ourselves that it’s a lesser of evils, but the truth is often the opposite. Sometimes, less aggressive approaches to medical concerns are both safer and more effective approaches to managing disease.

We need to learn to be less fearful of disease and more fearful of medical interventions that may be inappropriate. Many of these are now being documented by medical authorities as being of “dubious” value. But how did all these dubious tests and procedures get to be mainstream medicine in the first place?

Those Ten Little Known Facts

OK, on to those ten little known facts. Most of us worry about the wrong things and watch the wrong indicators for potential disease. Here are ten examples of medical facts relevant to managing disease that most patients – and many of their doctors – don’t realize:

1. Cholesterol is far less important for most aging adults than blood pressure, blood sugar & belly fat;

2. Radiation-based CT screenings increase your cancer risk;

3. Heart disease kills far more women than breast cancer;

4. Sudden cardiac death still kills hundreds of thousands a year in the U.S. – including middle-aged adults – with little progress despite heart disease advances;

5. Some medications prescribed for heart disease cause more disease than they prevent;

6. Among blood lipids (fats), low HDL (“good”) cholesterol combined with elevated triglyceride fats may be a better predictor of cardiac death than LDL or total cholesterol;

7. Your fitness level – often reflected by your pulse rate –  is the best predictor of your longevity;

8. Waist-to-hip ratio is the best predictor of premature death;

9. Women ages 45-54 have twice the stroke risk as men the same age; and

10. Half of heart attacks in men – and two-thirds in women – occur in those with normal cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol over 200 (up to 240-260) has been found protective in those over 60.

An Epidemic of Epidemics

So with all this misinformation underlying so much of our medical care, is it any wonder we’re not better at managing disease? We have so many escalating chronic medical conditions in America that we now have an epidemic of epidemics.

Seriously, did you know fatty liver disease is an epidemic? Do you even know what fatty liver disease is?

Don’t worry – it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you don’t. We don’t hear much about it and generally think of it as something to do with alcoholics, some variant of cirrhosis of the liver maybe.

But there’s something called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that’s caused primarily by excess belly fat – another epidemic among us (see “Belly Fat – The Enemy Within“).

What’s most telling about our current condition is that we live among epidemics that we don’t even recognize. What does it tell us when we have so many legitimate, bone fide epidemics – type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, fatty liver disease, sudden cardiac deaths, and the obesity that escalates them all to epidemic levels, along with others I haven’t even mentioned – and we barely even notice?

THIS is why we’re misspending 75% of our healthcare dollars on managing disease with high-tech medical interventions when low-tech, high-touch interventions have shown more promise. These conditions that largely begin with lifestyle choices are often best managed long-term with reformed lifestyle choices and healthcare practices that support compliance.

If we don’t start to get a better handle on this challenge of managing disease more effectively – not our doctors (they’ve already demonstrated they have little clue about managing disease of this magnitude) – but as patients and consumers, then we face a bleak future of physical decline and financial insolvency.

It’s as simple – and as complex –  as that.

And if we remain too busy and too distracted to make the time to learn and implement what we must to reverse this tsunami of epidemics – of mis-managing disease –  then we’ll learn first-hand the true price of ignorance.

And we’ll wish it were only dollars-and-cents.

What’s your experience with this? Anything to add?
You can do so below.

John Lynch: John Lynch was founder and CEO of Medical Diagnostics, Inc. - twice named to Business Week's "Best Small Companies" in America. He's since founded MedSmart Members to publish consumer health education publications.
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