By Clint Cooper
Feel like you will live forever?
Most people between the ages of 25 and 44 do. Death rates in the age bracket are relatively low, but the medical problems that can occur later in life often have their genesis in bad behavior begun during those years.
“They think it’s not going to happen to them,” said Dr. James Newby, 38, a family practitioner at Collegedale Medical Center, a Memorial Health System partner, “but it does.”
Yet, he said, by using common sense and by following various screenings and procedures, you can avoid —; or, at least, put off —; death by any of the top 10 leading causes of death within the age bracket.
“It’s hard to change when you’re so enmeshed in bad habits,” said Dr. Deborah Poteet-Johnson, whose Shallowford Road AdMed practice serves teenagers and young people in their 20s. “But (change) is not going to hurt them, and maybe it’s going to help them.”
Getting daily exercise and maintaining proper nutrition are keys, both doctors said.
“That should be a forethought in everyone’s mind,” Dr. Newby said.
Below are each of the top 10 causes of death for U.S. residents ages 25 to 44 with Dr. Newby’s and Dr. Poteet-Johnson’s advice on how to deal with them.
1. Unintentional injuries: Take common sense precautions such as wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle or motorcycle. Don’t drink while participating in driving or other high-risk activities. “Alcohol has a very high level involvement in most accidental deaths, from snakebites to motorized off-road vehicles crashes.”
2. Malignant neoplasms (cancers): Routine screenings are available for breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer, four of the biggest killers. Follow American Cancer Society guidelines on when to begin the screenings. A family history of one type of cancer, for instance, signifies a higher chance of developing the cancer; a screening, therefore, should begin sooner. Eating well, maintaining an ideal body weight, exercising and quitting smoking will cut down on the risk of several of the cancers. People in the age bracket should address any changes, abnormalities or warning signs in their body with their doctor. Part of the trick is getting people to the doctor; “Some people don’t see a doctor until they’re 45.”
3. Diseases of the heart: Screening for cholesterol should begin by age 25, with an understanding that an LDL level of under 100 “vastly reduces the chance of heart disease and stroke.” A healthy body weight and regular exercise will help tame obesity, which is at epic proportions. Drug use, and in particular methamphetamine use, can bring on heart arrhythmia.
4. Suicide: The key is seeking help “before you’re overwhelmed” or if you have signs of depression. Signs such as trouble concentrating or sleeping, irritability, guilt and, certainly, thoughts about suicide should trigger a visit to a primary care physician. “Our lifestyle is a problem as well. We have a higher rate of suicide than many other countries because we don’t exercise, we’re overstressed and we’re overworked.”
5. Homicide: While “bad things happen to good people,” using good judgments about situations, keeping out of high-risk locations and finding strength in numbers can be helpful.
6. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease: Avoidance of sex or safe sex through universal precautions is critical. Testing should be done on people who believe they may have been exposed to the disease.
7. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: Hepatitis C has been “detected (through screenings) at an alarming rate through random blood testing” from practices that may be ongoing or may have occurred 20 years ago. Blood borne exposure through tattoos, intravenous drug use and unsafe sex are among the behaviors that could leave someone at risk. While two glasses of alcohol four times a week have been shown to reduce the chance of heart attack or stroke, more consumption than that could be detrimental. And those who don’t drink shouldn’t be encouraged to do so “because you don’t know who could become an alcoholic.”
8. Cerebrovascular diseases: Although genetic disposition plays a part in this problem, quitting smoking, getting more exercise, drinking more water and determining a proper portion of food will play large roles in prevention. For women with a genetic predisposition, it is important to avoid certain contraceptive methods which put them at a higher risk for cerebrovascular disease. People who are living longer with conditions such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are also at risk because of their already compromised systems.
9. Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes is being diagnosed earlier and earlier in Americans. While Type 2 diabetes has a genetic disposition, diet and lack of exercise contribute more to the onset of the disease. “A good, healthy, balanced diet” is optimal; “a lot of fad diets” don’t help much. As a rule, “if God made it, eat it.” In reference to exercise, even a long walk from the parking lot to the store can be beneficial. Instead, “we’ll circle the parking lot for 10 minutes looking for a spot 40 feet closer. We’re the only nation like that.”
10. Influenza and pneumonia: While the flu shot is not a “fail-safe, fool-proof” way of preventing the flu and pneumonia, yearly flu shots and pneumonia vaccines can cut down much of the risk. The inoculations are even more important for people with co-morbidities, or illnesses that already compromise their immune systems.
E-mail Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org