Five Of The Most Common (and Avoidable) Diseases in the United States
Are some of these common diseases avoidable?
You know it's sad when an American nurse takes report from another nurse and can literally guess at least 2 or 3 diseases of each patient's medical diagnoses. It goes a little something like this:
Nurse #1: "I'm going to take a guess here: Diabetes Type 2?"
Nurse #2: "Yes."
Nurse #1: "COPD?"
Nurse #2: "Yep."
Nurse #1: "GERD?"
Nurse #2: "Uh-huh."
Nurse #1: "Anxiety / depression?"
Nurse #2: "How did you know?"
Nurse #1: "Because it's the same diseases or medical issues over and over again...with a little variety of course. But mostly the same from person to person."
It may seem like I am exaggerating here, but there are so many people in hospitals in the United States who seem to have the same things ailing them. And the saddest part is that many of these diseases and conditions were at some point avoidable for many of the people who have to deal with them on a daily basis. I am not trying to judge or categorize anyone here, I am simply pointing out a pattern that I have seen in the past few years with healthcare and the overall state of wellbeing of our country's citizens.
Diabetes Type 2
An extremely common disease that is ever-growing in the United States is Diabetes Type 2. This used to be a disease that mostly elderly folk would be diagnosed with; however, these days more and more of America's youth are being diagnosed with Diabetes Type 2. At any given time half of the patients in one hospital could have it. Why is this disease so common among the U.S. population? Is it merely genetics or do we have a problem with the way we are caring for ourselves? Let's take a look at some of the statistics and facts.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Diabetes Type 2 is:
"once known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose), your body's important source of fuel. With type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells — or doesn't produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level."
Doesn't seem too bad, right? Wrong! Even though the definition of Diabetes Type 2 states "noninsulin-dependent" this is not the case for a large number of Diabetics in the U.S. because they are not taking the proper measures to keep their blood sugar levels down through the means of exercise and diet changes. So obviously this leads them to being insulin dependent. This means that the insulin-dependent diabetic person is on a vicious cycle of testing blood sugar levels and then injecting insulin to keep their blood sugar levels down. Many people have a hard time managing their blood sugar levels after they get started on insulin and end up needing more and more or require trial of different kinds of insulin. Some people just give up altogether and become non-compliant with their insulin regimen...and then they end up where? In the hospital.
What's so bad about having high blood sugar levels though? Wouldn't it just give the person extra energy? High blood sugar seems like it wouldn't be that bad, but if it isn't managed (as it isn't in many cases) it could lead to really intense physical ailments including: vision problems, slowly-healing wounds, digestive problems like constipation or diarrhea, nerve pain known as neuropathy, and eventually can lead to problems with your vascular system. There are those who actually lose kidney function because of Diabetes Type 2 and have to be put on a set dialysis regimen. When it's reached this level, the person is facing his or her own death soon.
I hate to be so graphic and negative about this, because there are some people who find out they are Diabetic and actually change their lifestyles in order to control it. However, these people are truly few and far between...it is unfortunate but true.
So why are so many people (approximately 20 million) in the United States diagnosed with Diabetes Type 2? That's easy to answer - it is because of diet and lifestyle. Some might say, "well it has to do with genetics", and while that is true that doesn't mean that everyone who has Diabetics in their family has an excuse to eat poorly and not exercise, be diagnosed with Diabetes, and then blame it on genetics. What I'm saying is, just because my grandfather died because of Diabetes Type 2 that doesn't mean that I will if I'm taking care of my body.
So how do we avoid being diagnosed with Diabetes Type 2? That answer is simple, too - eat right, exercise regularly, and lead an active lifestyle. That's it? Yes, that's it. The overwhelming majority of Diabetics (Type 2) in the United States are sick because they didn't do these things. And society/media/etc. seems to encourage a lifestyle that is not healthy, so this doesn't make avoiding illness any easier. But...it's doable. And if you want to live a healthy life, you must avoid eating bad foods and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
To avoid Diabetes Type 2, there are three steps:
1. Eat Right
2. Exercise Regularly
3. Lead an active lifestyle
It's not rocket science, people!— Kitty the Dreamer
COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
By 2011, close to thirteen million Americans were said to have been diagnosed with COPD. COPD is an acronym for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and it is actually theorized that closer to 24 million people could have COPD that has just gone undiagnosed.
What is COPD, exactly?
To put it simply, COPD is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema resulting in reduced airflow in one's respiratory system. According to Wikipedia, the main symptoms are shortness of breath, sputum production, and cough.
The big problem with this disease is that the oxygen that should be pumping into your blood and moving to the rest of your body is dramatically reduced in a lot of cases. This leaves many parts of your body with blood that is de-oxygenated. For instance, when you go to the hospital someone will take your oxygen saturation level with your other vital signs. The normal O2 Saturation level for a healthy person should be between 95% and 100%, but with someone who has COPD their O2 Saturation levels could be as low as 85-90% on a regular basis. This can lead to a whole assortment of other health issues including: respiratory failure with acute exacerbations, frequent respiratory infections (flu, pneumonia), high blood pressure in your pulmonary arteries (arteries leading to your lungs), and even lung cancer.
Why is COPD so common in the United States? And what can we do to avoid being diagnosed with COPD?
For many years, our country's citizens were not taught of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Now many people from those generations have been diagnosed with COPD, and sadly a large number of people who have been diagnosed with COPD still smoke or use some form of tobacco product. You might be thinking, that's insane! But it's true. It has been estimated that 80% of the people diagnosed with COPD acquired it through years of smoking.
So what can we do to avoid a COPD diagnosis? If you smoke, quit smoking! Seeing as how this is the number one risk factor, why take the chance on having to suffer later in life just so that you can have a little mental relief now? If you care about your health and want to live a long healthy life, stop smoking or you'll end up in and out of hospitals with infections, respiratory failure, and possibly even cancer.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Here's another diagnosis that is quite common in the U.S. and in some cases could be avoided/prevented: Hypertension (also known as High Blood Pressure). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 million Americans are living with high blood pressure. "That is 1 out of every 3 adults" in the United States! They also go on to say that only about half of those people have their high blood pressure under control with either lifestyle changes and/or medication regimens.
But why is High Blood Pressure one of the most common diagnoses in the United States?
There has been no exact cause of High Blood Pressure identified, but there are quite a few risk factors, including: drinking alcohol on a daily basis (more than a drink), smoking, not exercising, eating a poor diet high in sodium and fat, and being overweight/obese. Some say it is purely aging that can cause Hypertension, but that is up for debate as not every elderly person has high blood pressure. Are we seeing a pattern with these common diseases in the United States? The pattern is poor lifestyle choices, plain and simple.
But if so many people are living with High Blood Pressure, what's the worry?
High Blood Pressure seems like such a benign diagnosis, but it can cause a lot of other problems...and not small health problems either. With high blood pressure, a person can be more at risk for a heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease. Are we seeing the problem now? So these people may be living with Hypertension now, but it is almost a guarantee that if they don't manage it properly they will end up in the hospital or in a grave from one of the end results listed above.
How can we try to avoid a diagnosis of High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
Again, we are going to have to change our lifestyle. Eat a diet higher in potassium, fiber, calcium and magnesium and lower in sodium and fat. Exercise on a regular basis. Lead an active lifestyle (go for walks, get outside, don't just sit on the couch non-stop in your free-time). Don't smoke cigarettes. Don't drink more than one drink on a daily basis. If you are overweight, lose weight. In general, care for your body and your health and you might be able to avoid high blood pressure.
Anxiety and Depression
These days it seems as if everyone has been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. Am I the only person who notices this? Anti-anxieties and anti-depressants seem to be handed out like pez candy in this day and age...but why? Do forty million adults in the United States really have legitimate anxiety disorders? Do forty six million people in the United States really have legitimate depression?
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
According to the healthyplace.com (America's Mental Health Channel), an anxiety disorder is a common mental illness defined by feelings of uneasiness, worry and fear. While anxiety occurs for everyone sometimes, a person with an anxiety disorder feels an inappropriate amount of anxiety more often than is reasonable.
What is depression?
According to the Mayo Clinic Staff, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.
There are actually multiple types of anxiety disorders, including but not limited to: PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. While many of these diagnosed people could very well have legitimate anxiety disorders, does that mean that 20% of our population has it? I'm not fully convinced. And is there a way to prevent from being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or allowing your stress levels to develop into a disorder? I believe there is.
And as for depression, there are also multiple types: post-partum depression, bipolar depression, seasonal depression, major depression, etc.
If you were to look up the causes of anxiety disorder and depression, you would see that most doctors/researchers state that there are multiple factors. Most of them agree that it is a combination of genetics, environmental stressors, life events, hormonal changes, and/or an emotional trigger of some kind. While these seem like legitimate causes of anxiety and depressive disorders, there are those who believe there are other factors that aren't being discussed or researched appropriately. How about diet and lifestyle as a cause of anxiety and/or depression?
If a person is to add regular exercise to his/her daily routine, many studies have found an elevation in mood. Why is this? Exercise increases the production of hormones which could be the very hormones lacking in a "depressed" person's system. Again there are a lot of factors involved in this concept...but let's just say an overweight person was diagnosed with depression and then he decides to start going for a walk/run on a daily basis. Eventually this person starts to lose weight, which also aids in elevation of his mood. Can lifestyle choices and changes such as this prevent the diagnosis of depression or perhaps even be a cure for depression/anxiety?
Consider our poor nutritional intake in this country. There are many studies that show that an increased consumption of sugar and fat can lead to anxiety/depression. Is this because these things cause weight gain and poor health in general? Possibly. Or maybe there are further biological factors involved.
We should also consider co-morbidities (other medical issues) as a factor for being diagnosed with anxiety/depression. For instance, one of the possible consequences of COPD is...drum roll please...anxiety/depression!
So is a diagnosis of anxiety or depression avoidable? I believe it is in many cases.
How can we avoid being diagnosed with anxiety/depression?
- eat right
- exercise regularly
- take time out for yourself to relieve stress in a healthy way
- don't smoke
- don't drink more than 2 drinks on a daily basis
- count your blessings!
Hear me out...
To wrap up this article on some of the most common and avoidable diseases in the United States, I would like to state for the record that I do not believe everyone who has these diagnoses acquired it because of a lack of care for themselves. I do believe that in many cases genetics and environmental factors can play a large part in medical problems; however, I do not believe that everyone who has been diagnosed with these diseases/disorders acquired them legitimately because of their parents' genes or because they worked in a hazardous environment.
I believe too often we give excuses for our health problems which aids in our overall denial of our state of health. It is also a problem that many doctors and healthcare workers are too quick to diagnose someone with an illness and hand out pills to mask the symptoms before actually taking a look at the root cause of the problem. We are too ready to treat symptoms and ignore the cause, when we should be identifying and resolving the root to the matter instead.
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© 2015 Author Nicole Canfield
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