Preventive Care - Illness prevention






Experts agree there are many things a person can do to keep from getting ill. Illnesses are usually caused by living organisms—bacteria, parasites, fungi, or viruses—that are transmitted from one person to another. A healthy person's immune system usually can attack and destroy these organisms before the person becomes ill, but when this system is weakened by factors such as poor nutrition or stress, sickness or disease may be the result.

People can take many actions that can help guard their bodies against these infections and build up their immune systems to make them strong and resistant to illness. These actions include good habits like eating well, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, managing stress, practicing good hygiene, and getting frequent physical checkups and complete immunizations.

Eating Well

A healthy diet—making sure to get enough of certain kinds of foods, such as fruit and vegetables, and not too much of other kinds, such as hamburgers and French fries—can prevent a host of health problems. These problems can include allergies, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cataracts, diabetes, digestive problems such as bloating and diarrhea, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease, and premature aging. The best way to maintain a healthy diet is to eat a variety of foods, paying special attention to eating the right proportions as suggested by the U.S. government's Food Guide Pyramid, which is a guide to good nutrition. [ See also Chapter 1: Nutrition.]

INCREASE FIBER INTAKE BY EATING HIGH-FIBER SNACKS LIKE NUTS, POPCORN, FRESH OR DRIED FRUITS, AND WHOLE GRAIN CRACKERS.

Preventive Care: Words to Know

Adrenaline:
A chemical that blocks the histamine response in an allergic reaction.
Alzheimer's disease:
A severe condition usually found in the elderly that affects the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
Anemia:
The condition of low iron in the blood.
Antibodies:
A substance made in the body that protects the body against germs or viruses.
Antioxidants:
Powerful molecules found in certain foods and vitamins that help neutralize free radicals, which are damaging molecules.
Bacteria:
Single-celled micro-organisms, which can be either beneficial or harmful.
Carbon monoxide:
A highly toxic, colorless, odorless gas that is produced whenever something is burned incompletely, or in a closed environment.
Collagen:
Fibrous protein found in connective tissues such as the skin and ligaments.
Cruciform:
The term for certain vegetables with long stems and branching tops, such as broccoli and cauliflower.
Emphysema:
A lung disease usually caused by smoking that produces shortness of breath and relentless coughing.
Enzyme:
A complex protein found in the cells that acts as a catalyst for chemical reactions in the body.
Esophagus:
The muscular tube that connects the throat with the stomach.
Free radicals:
Harmful molecules in the body that damage normal cells and can cause cancer and other disorders.
Fungus:
An organism of plant origin that lacks chlorophyll; some fungi cause irritation or disease.
Hemoglobin:
A protein found in red blood cells, needed to carry oxygen to the body's many tissues.
Hemorrhoids:
Enlarged and swollen veins in the anus that may bleed.
Hepatitis:
One of several severe liver-damaging diseases specified by the letters A, B, C and D.
Histamines:
Chemicals released in an allergic reaction that cause swelling of body tissues.
Immune system:
The body's own natural defenses against germs and other infectious agents.
Immunization:
The introduction of disease-causing compounds into the body in very small amounts in order to allow the body to form antigens against the disease.
Insomnia:
Chronic sleeplessness or sleep disturbances.
Insulin:
The substance in the body that regulates blood sugar levels.
Larynx:
The voice box.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG):
A substance that enhances flavor but causes food intolerance in some people.
Mucous membranes:
The lining of the nose and sinus passages that helps shield the body from allergens and germs.
Osteoporosis:
A degenerative bone disease.
Parasite:
An organism that lives on or inside another organism at the expense of its host.
Parkinson's disease:
A progressive disease that causes slowing and stiffening of muscular activity, trembling hands, and a difficulty in speaking and walking.
Virus:
A tiny organism that causes disease.

FIBER. In general, a person should concentrate on eating a diet high in fiber. Sufficient dietary fiber intake helps prevent colon cancer and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as constipation, hemorrhoids, and diarrhea. Fiber also promotes bowel regularity. It is possible that eating enough fiber may lower cholesterol and, in diabetics, slow the absorption of sugar, which may decrease the need for insulin. Foods high in fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (peas, beans), but some people prefer to take fiber supplements available at grocery and drug stores.

FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Everyone has heard: "an apple a day will keep the doctor away," or "eat your vegetables, they're good for you!" Fruits and vegetables are good for everyone, but many people find it hard to eat enough of them, and some don't like them at all. They may not taste as good as ice cream or chocolate to most people, but it is important to try to eat them anyway. They benefit a person's health in many ways.

One group of vegetables, called cruciform, includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and Swiss chard. Eating vegetables from this group helps prevent the development of stomach, colorectal (large intestine and rectum), and lung cancers. Dark green and deep yellow vegetables like spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, and apricots are good sources of vitamin A. Oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and green and red peppers contain vitamin C. Vitamins A and C are antioxidants, which are important vitamins that help neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals in the body. Free radicals damage normal cells and can cause cancer, as well as cataracts, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

MORE ABOUT ANTIOXIDANTS. In addition to vitamins A and C, the antioxidant vitamin group includes beta-carotene, selenium, and vitamin E. Many people take supplements of these vitamins, but a person with a healthy, varied diet should take in enough to help prevent certain diseases. Increasing the body's level of antioxidants also has been shown to help prevent premature aging and skin damage, minimize stress, and prevent acne. Antioxidants can also prevent or lessen the severity of allergies like hay fever.

REDUCE THE FAT AND PROCESSED FOODS. A diet low in fatty foods, which are foods that contain unsaturated or saturated fats, is helpful in the prevention of certain diseases. Research has shown a relationship between high dietary fat intake and the occurrence of prostate, colorectal, and other cancers. Dietary fat is one of the main generators of damaging free radicals. Because of this connection, eating less fat, both saturated and unsaturated, lessens a person's risk of cancer, cataracts, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Lowering fat intake also helps prevent or reduce acne. The same benefits can be realized by avoiding foods rich in white, processed flour and sugar.

Gnrlic is a healthy addition to a diet. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Gnrlic is a healthy addition to a diet. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

OTHER BENEFICIAL FOODS, VITAMINS, AND MINERALS

There are other foods and supplements that have been found to be beneficial and to help prevent various disorders:

  • Garlic fights heart disease and cancer and prolongs the life span of skin cells.
  • Vitamins A and E, zinc, and chromium can reduce acne, and along with selenium, can protect the mucous membranes, which shield the body from allergens and germs.
  • Magnesium helps relieve constriction in the lungs due to allergies and asthma, and can help prevent migraine headaches.
  • Vitamin C blocks histamines, which are present in allergic reactions, and reduces inflammation.
  • Bioflavonoids may help reduce asthma-related inflammation.
  • Riboflavin, magnesium and calcium taken regularly help prevent migraine headaches.

AVOID FRIED AND SMOKED OR BARBECUED FOODS. Fried foods are high in fat, and many smoked and barbecued foods contain nitrates and other chemicals that are known to cause cancer. A person should reduce the amount of these foods in the diet, which may help to prevent cancer, as well as headaches, allergies, and acne problems.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Adults of legal drinking age who do choose to drink alcohol should do so in moderation. High alcohol consumption increases the risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver (a condition in which liver tissue is destroyed). If alcohol is combined with smoking or chewing tobacco, a person will have greater risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx, throat, and esophagus. In addition, alcohol is high in sugar content and calories that can contribute to weight gain and the creation of harmful free radicals in the body.

No Smoking, Please

Almost everyone knows that smoking is hazardous to one's health. But why? It is now known that smoking produces free radicals, which can cause premature aging and wrinkles, cancer, and heart disease; raise blood pressure; damage the skin and connective tissues; and lead to other diseases in the body. Smoking also aggravates sun damage and reduces the body's ability to fight off infection. It can also cause emphysema (a lung disease) and chronic bronchitis, which can eventually be fatal. Smoking cigars or chewing tobacco may not be as intense in their effect as cigarettes, but lead to the same problems, and more: increased risk of oral cancer, such as in the cheek or gum, tongue, lips, esophagus, larynx, and pancreas. Chewing tobacco can also lead to gum disease.

It is important to try to avoid secondhand smoke—cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke that is exhaled by smokers—because it can lead to cancer, even in nonsmokers. Inhaling secondhand smoke causes the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise, and the level of carbon monoxide in the blood to increase, which can, over time, result in heart disease, high blood pressure, and reduced lung capacity.

Drink Plenty of Water

Drinking an adequate amount of water every day (between 4 and 8 eight-ounce glasses) prevents dehydration and helps flush out the body, removing harmful substances, toxins, and free radicals. Most public water systems in the United States also provide supplemental fluoride that strengthens children's teeth.

BUTTER VS. MARGARINE

For many years, nutritionists and diet experts have been advising people to avoid butter, which is high in fat, in favor of margarine. It turns out that many margarines have as much fat and calories per serving as butter. The important difference is that margarine has less saturated fat than butter and more unsaturated fat, which is better for you. Saturated fat is known to increase blood cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease.

Among the different kinds of margarine, soft margarine has less saturated fat than stick margarine. This is because the process to harden margarine increases saturated fat and forms what are called trans-fatty acids, which have been linked to heart disease. Thus softer margarine is preferred. Diet or low-fat margarines tend to have less fat and fewer calories than regular margarine or butter, but a better solution is to try to use less of any of these spreads.

However, one should not drink any water of unknown safety. Tap water in most American cities and small towns is likely to be safe, as is most bottled water. But, water in streams and rivers may be contaminated with either cancer-causing chemicals or with parasites that could make a person sick. When camping or traveling, if in doubt, drink bottled water.

Avoiding Certain Foods

Just as one should pay special attention to eating the right foods, one should also consider avoiding certain others. Some foods have been shown to increase the risk of certain specific disorders. One example is chocolate, which may cause or aggravate acne and also trigger migraine headaches. Other foods to avoid for people who suffer from headaches, especially migraines, include:

  • cheddar cheese and bacon, which cause blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, triggering a pounding pain;
  • chocolate ice cream, as the chocolate and the cold temperature both can trigger headache pain;
  • coffee, which causes headaches if not drunk in moderation;
  • dark wines and alcohol, which contain the headache-triggering chemical tyramine;
  • foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrites, or aspartame (artificial sweetener); and
  • pickled herrings, chicken livers, lentils, snow peas, navy beans, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, all of which contain tyramine.

FOOD SAFETY

The following simple principles will help a person avoid getting sick from food poisoning, which can make one extremely uncomfortable at the least, and can be fatal at worst. Symptoms of food poisoning include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomachache.

  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold, whether in the home or on a picnic. Use an insulated cooler when transporting food, and don't put cold groceries in a hot car trunk or let them sit out at room temperature too long before putting them in a refrigerator.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food and in between handling raw meat or eggs and other foods.
  • Don't let food sit out for more than an hour under any circumstances. Food that sits at room temperature is at high risk for developing harmful bacteria.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs, which are likely to contain illness-causing salmonella bacteria (this includes eating uncooked batter or dough when baking).
  • Avoid raw shellfish, such as oysters and mussels, which may contain bacteria for hepatitis A.

Food Allergies and Intolerance

Food allergies and intolerance can cause, among other things, abdominal pain; diarrhea; nausea or vomiting; fainting; hives; swelling of the lips, eyes, face, tongue or throat; nasal congestion; or asthma. The difference is that in a true allergic reaction, the body produces histamine and other substances that cause this reaction. In food intolerance, the chemistry is different; the culprit is likely the absence of an enzyme needed to digest food fully.

Common foods that can cause allergic reactions include:

  • cow's milk
  • whole eggs or egg whites
  • peanuts and peanut butter
  • wheat
  • soybeans
  • berries
  • shellfish
  • corn

Kitchens can be breeding grounds for bacteria. To decrease the spread of bacteria, always wash hands before and after handling raw meat and clean the work space with soap and warm water or an antibacterial cleaning product when finished. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Kitchens can be breeding grounds for bacteria. To decrease the spread of bacteria, always wash hands before and after handling raw meat and clean the work space with soap and warm water or an antibacterial cleaning product when finished. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)
  • beans
  • gum Arabic (a thickener found in processed foods)
  • certain food dyes

Food allergies are usually diagnosed through an elimination diet in which the patient removes suspected foods from the diet for a week or two, then slowly adds them back, one at a time, until the reaction occurs again. This food can then be avoided in the future. In addition, people with severe, life-threatening allergies may carry an injection kit containing adrenaline, a chemical that blocks the histamine response.

Food intolerance is in some ways more difficult to spot than true allergies because people may be sensitive to various "hidden" chemicals used to process foods. These chemicals include monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer commonly used in Chinese restaurants and other cuisine; food dyes; sulfites, which are found in wines, seafoods, potatoes, and some soft drinks; and salicylates, which appear in fruits, vinegar, cider, and wine made from fruits.

Probably the most common type of food intolerance is called lactose intolerance, a hypersensitivity to a sugar called lactose found in milk. About 70 percent of the world's population is unable to fully digest lactose. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, pain, gas and diarrhea. Lactose intolerant people can prevent the symptoms by avoiding milk and eating other dairy products, such as yogurt, hard cheeses and sour cream, in which most of the lactose is already broken down. Some also choose to use special lactose-free milk or take over-the-counter pills that help the body digest lactose.

Another common food intolerance involves gluten, found primarily in wheat products. Severe intolerance to gluten can lead to celiac disease, a painful condition of the small intestine.

MINI-MEALS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Research has shown that the traditional three meals a day may not be the best way to eat for optimum health. More and more, it appears that eating five to seven "mini-meals," snack-sized meals of about 250-500 calories each, throughout the day promotes better nutrition and health.

Spreading out these small meals throughout the day helps maintain a normal blood sugar level (rather than high spikes and low dips caused by waiting a longer time between meals). Studies show this normalized blood sugar level reduces damage to collagen and DNA, which can cause wrinkles, age spots, and cataracts (an eye disorder). Mini-meals also normalize insulin levels; high levels of insulin, which regulates blood sugar, are a known risk factor for heart disease.

Exercise and Health

Exercise has many benefits, both physical and mental. It helps to minimize the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and premature aging. It also reduces anxiety, fatigue, and tension. Regular exercise has been shown to effectively manage stress, which helps prevent acne and the occurrence of tension headaches. Exercise helps people sleep better, which, in turn, contributes to a stronger immune system and greater ability to fight illness and infection. In general, people who exercise enjoy a higher energy level than others, and are better able to concentrate at school or at work.

A physically fit person is more likely to recover quickly from illness and injury and from surgery. If exercising regularly, a person will strengthen his or her heart and muscles and improve the flexibility of the joints. Aerobic exercise, which raises the heartbeat, improves the condition of other organs as well as the heart, and increases one's overall conditioning and endurance. Women who exercise are at a decreased risk of developing osteoporosis (a degenerative bone disease).

People who participate in muscle-toning exercises can experience special benefits. Strong stomach muscles help protect the back and lessen the risk of back injury. In addition, a stronger, more physically fit person can lift heavy things more easily, again lessening the strain on the back. A toned individual takes surer steps, is less likely to fall down, and generally experiences less risk of injury from falls because the muscles are pliable and strong. [ See also Chapter 2: Physical Fitness.]

EXERCISING SAFELY

A good rule of thumb is to try to exercise for about thirty minutes three times a week. Exercise should include a variety of activities, including aerobic activities that raise the heartbeat, stretching and flexibility exercises, and muscle-strengthening activities. Usually, participation in sports, either at school or with friends, provides enough physical activity for a healthy young person.

School-age young people should be warned not to overdo exercise. It is wise to check with a doctor before beginning an exercise program. Start slow, with short exercise sessions, and build up to the thirty-minute goal. Each time a person exercises, he should start by stretching and warming up to prepare the joints, muscles, and tendons for the activity, and cool down afterward with a period of slower and gentler exercise. The warm-up and cool-down periods prevent soreness and stiffness later.

Anyone who experiences faintness, chest pain or pressure, or excessive tiredness or pain during exercise should stop working out or playing the sport and check with a doctor.

Manage Stress

One of the most important aspects of a personal health regimen is to manage stress. Stress is the body's normal response to dangerous or high-pressure situations, anything from an upcoming test at school, to a big game, to facing surgery, or being lost in an unfamiliar place. No matter the source of the stress, the body's response is the same: the body produces adrenaline (a hormone) and chemicals that cause the pulse to quicken, the muscles to tense, and the blood pressure to increase. This is known as the "fight or flight" response, which might have been more useful to ancient peoples facing predators than to today's average person.

A little stress can be beneficial in certain situations. The increased adrenaline and stimulation of the body can help an athlete perform to his or her best in a big game, or allow a student to focus better on an important exam. However, too much stress, or ongoing stress that is not addressed, eventually takes a physical toll on the body. Over an extended period of time, uncontrolled stress produces the free radical molecules that can cause premature aging, cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, acne, and increased risk of infections.

There are a number of well-documented ways to manage and reduce stress. One of the best of these is exercise. A regular exercise program, whether it consists of structured aerobics classes or a few casual games of tennis or racquetball a week, reduces stress and also promotes healthy sleep, which in itself helps reduce stress.

Ensuring that one gets a healthy night's sleep every night is a second way to manage and reduce stress. A person can improve sleep patterns in the following ways:

  • Avoid sleeping on the stomach.
  • If sleeping on the back, put a pillow under the knees to flex the spine.
  • If snoring is a problem, sleep on the side.
  • Use a low pillow to support the head without flexing the neck.
  • Be sure to dress warmly for bed and/or use enough blankets.
  • Have plenty of room to move around in bed.

Eating a healthy diet is a third way to reduce stress in life. One should especially concentrate on ingesting enough antioxidants, which can be found in green leafy vegetables, yellow and deep orange veggies, and many fruits. If getting a variety of fruits and vegetables is a problem, a person can take an antioxidant supplement, which can be found in almost any drugstore or the pharmacy section of the local supermarket.

Another good way to manage stress is to find ways to relax. Again, there are a number of different methods; each individual can choose a method that works best.

  • Some people use deep breathing to relax. Breathe in, hold it for five seconds, then exhale.
  • Another relaxation technique is to lie down, close the eyes, and concentrate on slowly relaxing each part of the body. Start with the feet and relax each muscle group until a feeling of deep relaxation and peace surrounds the body.
  • Some individuals find a particular kind of music soothing.
  • Humor or laughter is a great way to relax both body and mind.
  • Another method that some people enjoy is aromatherapy, in which scented oils, candles, lotions, or bath beads are used to calm the senses. Lavender is one recommended soothing scent.
  • Milder forms of exercise, such as yoga or tai chi (a gentle martial art), are also popular.

The power of positive thinking should not be underestimated in reducing the effects of stress. This can include talking positively to oneself and refocusing negative thoughts and situations into positive ones. Concentrating on some of the activities mentioned above is one way to make an effort to stop negative thoughts.

Another very important, way to manage stress is to seek support from peers. Getting together with peers for social or sports activities, studying, games, and fun helps one focus on the positive. Socializing helps relax the body and mind and greatly reduces the effects of everyday stress.

Hanging out with friends is a great stress reducer. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Hanging out with friends is a great stress reducer. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

Get Enough Sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is essential to maintaining good health. The body uses the time spent sleeping to repair and rejuvenate itself while storing energy for the next day. For many reasons, however, sleep is often elusive for busy Americans, even the very young. Yet numerous studies have shown that chronic sleeplessness leads to many serious disorders. Most authorities claim that the average person needs eight hours of sleep a night to function adequately; some individuals believe they need only six or seven, whereas others think they need nine or ten.

Sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep) is a major cause of accidents. It raises blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and is a known cause of psychological disturbances. And lack of sleep seriously compromises the immune system's ability to fight disease. Getting enough sleep is one sure way to help fight off common colds, the flu, and mild infections.

There are several ways to prevent insomnia, or chronic sleeplessness. Set a regular sleep schedule and try to stick to it. Try not to take naps during the day, as this prevents deep, refreshing sleep at night. Get regular exercise, reduce caffeine intake, avoid smoking, and, for those of legal drinking age, drink alcohol only in moderation. Alcohol may make a person sleepy, but the type of sleep it causes is shallow and not beneficial to the body's self-healing processes.

Try to reserve the bedroom for sleep only. Take steps to make the bedroom as appealing, quiet and relaxing as possible, while avoiding such activities as watching TV or doing homework in bed.

Observe Good Hygiene Practices

Illnesses are usually spread from person to person through the spread of germs, viruses, and other organisms. One of the best ways to be protected against these illnesses is to follow basic good hygiene techniques. [ See also Chapter 3: Personal Care and Hygiene.]

Good hand-washing habits are one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of illnesses such as colds, the flu, and viruses, as well as those caused by parasites. One should always wash his or her hands with warm water and plenty of soap after using the bathroom (especially public rest-rooms, which may not be cleaned as frequently as personal bathrooms) and before preparing or eating food. Washing hands is also important after coming in contact with someone who is ill or after handling trash or playing with pets.

Good dental hygiene—brushing and flossing every day and seeing a dentist at least once a year—will help prevent bad breath, tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease later in life. Gum disease puts adults at risk for strokes because it can lead to blockages of the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head.

No matter your age, getting the proper amount of sleep is important to maintaining good health. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
No matter your age, getting the proper amount of sleep is important to maintaining good health. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

Keeping the hair clean will help minimize the risk of developing head lice, while bathing or showering frequently and keeping the body clean helps to prevent skin problems and rashes, jock itch, and athlete's foot.

Physical Examinations

Eating well, practicing good hygiene, managing stress, and exercising are all proven ways to prevent illness and disease. However, even a person who follows all of these techniques should still visit a medical professional regularly for a physical examination or checkup. Some authorities recommend checkup visits for children at the following ages: two to four weeks, two, four, six, nine, twelve, fifteen, and eighteen years.

Checkups are important because they allow the health care provider to review the patient's growth and development, perform tests, and give shots (vaccines), if necessary. Anyone who has a health concern or question should be sure to ask the doctor or other health professional at this visit. Often, catching a problem early can prevent it from becoming much more severe. For example, doctors will usually examine patients for scoliosis (curvature of the spine) starting at around fifth or sixth grade. Catching a mild curvature at this age allows it to be treated with a brace and can reduce the likelihood of severe problems that might require surgery later in life.

Some diagnostic tests that may be performed during an examination include:

  • Anemia: Young people should be tested for anemia (a blood disorder) early in life as a preventive measure. Anemia can be treated better if caught early.
  • Auscultation: This is a medical term for listening, the process by which a doctor or other professional determines whether the sounds coming from the lungs, heart, and abdomen are normal. Abnormal sounds can signal such problems as a heart murmur or irregularity, an aortic aneurysm, fluid in the lungs, or serious intestinal problems. One example that a doctor might listen for would be an absence of bowel sounds, which could indicate a rupture of the intestines. This condition could rapidly become fatal if not treated immediately.
  • Blood pressure check: High blood pressure in young people can lead to serious problems, such as heart disease and strokes.
  • Cholesterol level: High levels of cholesterol have been linked with heart disease and heart attacks. Testing is especially important if there is a family history of these problems.
  • Inspection: This process of "looking" at and observing the patient's external appearance is usually the first step in a checkup. A doctor might spot, for example, a mole on a patient's arm that has grown or changed in appearance, signaling the possibility of skin cancer. Skin cancer is a condition that can be very successfully treated or even prevented if caught early.
  • Palpation: This term means "feeling" and refers to the doctor's methods of touching affected body parts to determine their size, consistency, texture, location, and tenderness. Palpation might allow the provider to spot a tumor or cyst while it is still small enough to be removed successfully.

RECOMMENDED VACCINES

The federal government recommends that all Americans receive the following course of vaccinations:

  • Polio (OPV or IPV): At 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTaP, DTP): At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. Tetanus-Diphtheria (Td) at 11 to 16 years.
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR): At 12 to 15 months and either 4 to 6 years or 11 to 12 years.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12 to 15 months; or 2 months, 4 months and 12 to 15 months depending on the vaccine type.
  • Hepatitis B (HBV): At birth to 2 months, 1 to 4 months, and 6 to 18 months.
  • Chickenpox (VZV): At 1 to 12 years.

The schedule of immunizations does change with new research, so individuals should check with their doctors to see if there are any new vaccines available.

  • Percussion: A method of "tapping" of body parts during a physical examination with fingers, hands, or small instruments to evaluate the size, consistency, borders, and presence or absence of fluid in body organs.
  • Tuberculosis (TB): This test is generally only necessary if one has been in close contact with a person who has TB (a disease of the lungs).
  • Vision and hearing tests: The health care provider has tests to determine if there are any potential problems with vision or hearing. Problems like glaucoma (an eye disease) or hearing loss can be treated successfully or at least minimized if caught early.

Complete Immunizations

Many infectious illnesses (ones that may be passed from person to person) caused by viruses or bacteria are now preventable through immunization. Immunization means being injected with a vaccine (a tiny amount of the disease that is not infectious), which allows the body to create defense mechanisms against the disease. These defense mechanisms, which include antibodies or white blood cells, protect the body if the person is later exposed to the infectious disease.



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