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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

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By Maren Dunn, D.O. Health Contributor

This quote from 12th century jurist Henry de Bracton exemplifies an effective health concept. And luckily, preventing disease and promoting your health is as easy as a visit to your family doctor.

A wellness visit, no matter if you’re 2 or 72, may take 30 to 45 minutes, and will cover all aspects of your condition. This includes a full physical exam, family and personal medical histories as well as lifestyle history, or development history if you’re a child. Then, the physician can provide education regarding aspects of prevention specific to you.

For instance: Did you know the leading cause of death to American men and women, by 5 percent over all types of cancer combined, is heart disease? And if you’re male, have high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoke or sit on the couch more than you should, you’re at greater risk of a heart attack?

Some risk factors are modifiable, such as smoking or living a sedentary lifestyle, while others, like genetics, gender or ethnicity, are not. However, it’s your physician’s job to educate you on your greatest risks and offer recommendations for lifestyle changes, surveillance and treatment.

How about the importance of preventing severe illness like pneumococcal pneumonia, meningitis and shock, or pertussis (whooping cough)? Every year 17,500 children were hospitalized with life-threatening pneumococcal diseases. That number declined by 75 percent with the integration of the childhood vaccine 10 years ago. Last year, in 2011, a new stronger vaccine was developed. Your physician can let you know if your child is up to date.

Equally as frightening are the 101 cases of pertussis diagnosed last year in Montana. Twenty-four of those cases were in Gallatin County two months ago! Whooping cough is deadly to young children and the elderly, but is preventable when proper vaccines are given to children, adolescents and adults. See your doctor if you think you or your family may be at risk.

If you’re a healthy male, studies show you’re 24 percent less likely to have seen your doctor in the last two years than your female counterparts. As a result, you’re likely not aware that it’s recommended to have your blood pressure checked every two years. Most men need their cholesterol checked starting at age 35; others with certain risk factors should be checked from age 20. As a healthy female, new recommendations have been developed over the past few years regarding mammograms, pap smears and cardiovascular screening. These and other wellness necessities can be discussed at your well-male or female visit.

As for the kids, did you know that 50 percent of children with developmental delay will not be identified before kindergarten, despite the fact most will show mild delays by age 2? As physicians, we work to identify disabilities as early as possible by using screening tools specific to age and stage of development. But, we can’t be effective without help from parents.

Well-child visits are recommended at specific intervals and can include physical measurements, behavioral assessments, sensory screenings (such as vision or hearing), patient history, guidance for nutrition, safety, and events like toilet training and procedures such as immunizations. These recommended visit intervals include: 1 week of age, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 24 and 30 months of age, 3 and 4 years of age, and yearly after that. Parental input is extremely important during these visits, especially when it comes to identifying developmental delay.

Since leading healthy and satisfying lives is what we all strive for, promoting health through prevention is the most worthwhile investment you can make for yourself, your family and your future.

Dr. Maren Dunn is owner of Gallatin Family Medicine. The practice is offering 50 percent off wellness exams through Feb. 17.

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