With Dr. Renee Fay-Leblanc and Dr. Gita Rao of Greater Portland Health
Prevention helps avoid disease
1. What are some of the most important tests that a middle aged man or woman needs in order to prevent critical illnesses that are related to aging?
The United States Preventive Services Task Force is an independent committee that recommends which screening tests should be done and when. These tests include the following:
Blood pressure check (yearly) – this is a simple test done in the office to determine if a person has high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure may feel well, so screening is important.
Blood sugar check (every five years, or more often if you have risk factors) – this is a blood test to screen for diabetes.
Cholesterol check (every five years, or more often if you have risk factors) – this is a blood test to screen for high cholesterol.
Screening for HIV and hepatitis (one time) – these are both blood tests and are recommended screenings for all adults.
Cervical cancer screening (every three to five years for women ages 21 to 65) – this looks for changes in the cervix which, if left untreated, could cause cervical cancer.
Breast cancer screening (every two years for women ages 50 to 75) – this looks to detect breast cancer in the early stages when it is more easily treatable.
Colon cancer screening – this is recommended for men and women ages 45 to 75. This can be done with yearly stool testing, or a screening colonoscopy every 10 years. Early detection and removal of colon polyps can prevent colon cancer from developing.
2. Is there any particular serious illness that is prevalent within Immigrant communities due to a lack of preventative measures and awareness?
High blood pressure and diabetes are two chronic conditions, which often do not cause symptoms. If these conditions are not treated, they can lead to serious secondary conditions. In patients with untreated high blood pressure (hypertension), we worry about heart attacks, stroke, and kidney failure. For people with untreated diabetes, we worry about the same conditions as untreated blood pressure, but also blindness, diabetic foot infections, and non-healing infections requiring limb amputation.
Also, many cancers are not initially symptomatic. Cancer screening can find things early when they can be treated. Once a cancer starts to cause symptoms, it may have spread to other areas of the body and can be more difficult to treat. We do not have screening tests for all cancers, however screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer are recommended for the general population. Lung cancer screening is also recommended for a subset of patients at high risk (primarily due to a history of smoking).
3. What are some of the most important supplements and vitamins to sustain a healthy life?
In general, it is best to get vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet. This means eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Green vegetables in particular, are filled with vitamins. That said, vitamin D is mostly from the sun. It is hard to get enough vitamin D through the diet, and we often do not get enough sun in Maine. Your healthcare provider may recommend taking a vitamin D supplement of 2,000 units daily. Vitamin D is stored in body fat, so people should not take too much. Talk with your provider about the right dose for you. In addition to vitamin D, a calcium supplement may be recommended as well. This recommendation will vary depending on age, gender, and whether or not you eat dairy.
4. Immigrants are not used to being on medications. What are the benefits and consequences of not taking some of the health-enhancement medications like vitamins and other preventative medicines?
For common, chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, patients usually need to take medications for the rest of their lives. The medications are necessary to treat the condition, and if the medications are stopped, the condition (blood pressure or sugar levels) will rise. As noted above, untreated high blood pressure and diabetes can lead to many concerning medical conditions over time – heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation.