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M. P. Ravindra Nathan
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

Doctors’ Day is observed in our hospital every year. A few years ago, the nurses volunteered to check the blood pressure of all the doctors on that special day as their gift since the latter are often quite busy, tending to neglect their own health. Many had fallen sick in a span of two years, with two deaths in my Hernando County alone. Clearly, the “Physician, heal thyself” concept was not working. On that single day, three doctors were found to have hypertension, which they hadn’t even suspected!

Good health is not an accident; you must cultivate good habits, including diet and exercise, and also must diligently follow all the “maintenance protocols” for the body. One of the important steps would be an annual checkup, especially for those getting closer to middle age and beyond or having considerable risk factors for diseases, including tobacco usage in any form, excessive indulgence in alcohol, obesity, high stress jobs and family history of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

When was the last time you had a good physical? Do you even have a family physician or internist to go to? Do you know your blood pressure, blood sugar and lipid levels? Have you had a pap smear or PAS (Prostate Specific Antigen) test? I hear the same line from friends, “Oh, I have been meaning to see my doctor, but just didn’t have the time yet.” Although we talk about preventive maintenance, we simply don’t do it. And yet we have no problem in writing an annual contract for some equipment in the office or taking the car for regular service.

Recent statistics show that seven million American men have not visited a doctor in a decade. Women fared much better. As one gentleman said to me, “Why look for trouble unnecessarily? They will find something; I will be forced to do a million tests and then what? If nothing is broken, why fix it?” Unfortunately, that attitude will not work, since early recognition and treatment of diseases would be the key for long life.

Often enough, just like old equipments, something breaks down in the body as we age and you may not feel any symptoms at all. Even if the body sends you some signals, they are often neglected, brushed off as inconsequential or misinterpreted. On top of that, diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and early stages of cancer often can be silent or only minimally symptomatic till a major complication occurs.

Women seem to be more connected to their doctors because of their pregnancies and deliveries, mammograms, annual pap smears, hormone therapies and so on. Life expectancy for men is five years less than women, 74.7 vs. 79.9 yrs, a considerable gender gap, which we can do without. Men suffer from more risk factors than women and the age-adjusted death rate is higher for men for the leading causes of death in USA.

So, my suggestion is, no matter how healthy you feel, schedule that annual checkup and get to know the workings of your own body. Regular examinations are the best way to maintain your health. Your family doctor will be a beacon of guidance and help you sort out the many conflicting and often contradictory information pouring forth on a daily basis, especially in reference to nutrition, weight control, hormone therapy, hypertension, osteoporosis, aging-related problems and much more.

The late Paul Dudley White, the father of American cardiology and a great physician, used to say, “Most heart diseases before the age of 80 are man-made, after that, it may be from natural causes.” While there may be some truth in it, it is difficult to avoid becoming ill, living in this complex world of ours. But the one thing you can keep in mind is “early detection, treatment and prevention of diseases are critical for your longevity.”

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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