Preventive Health: Spending a Little Time Now Earns You Time and Comfort Later

August 22, 2016

By Beth Nielsen, Primary Care Physician at Providence Family Medicine 

“Preventative health” seeks to prevent the development of disease rather than treat it after the fact.   As medical science has progressed, we have learned that preventative measures can help reduce the occurrence of all kinds of diseases in order to improve length and quality of life. 

Before entering primary care, I was involved with cardiovascular disease research.  While this was interesting, our treatments were geared towards helping people who were already in a serious disease state.  I couldn’t help but think that, in our country with our resources, the vast majority of these cases could have been completed avoided with better habits. 

In some countries, the most important preventative measures have to do with reducing the spread of infections through vaccines or better sanitation.  While those measures are still important to modern Americans, the issues that most impact us relate to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.  Preventative health can reduce the frequency and severity of all of these concerns. 

There are different types of preventative health. 

  1. Primary prevention means trying to control a disease process before it ever develops – measures like smoking cessation, regular exercise, and vaccines fall into this category. 
  2. Secondary prevention means detection of a disease before it develops into a serious problem – examples include screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or diabetes.  If these conditions are detected, prompt attention through lifestyle modification and medication can reduce the risk of serious consequences.  
  3. Sometimes, due to factors beyond our control (like genetics), diseases may develop despite our best efforts.  When this happens, tertiary prevention employs measures to reduce the severity of the problem.  At this stage, management strategies include medications or surgeries. 

A provider who practices preventative health establishes a relationship with the patient, educating him/her with information on optimal wellness, and keeping the patient up to date on recommended screenings. 

To practice preventative health as a patient, begin with primary prevention –take steps like quitting smoking, eating the healthiest diet possible, and exercising regularly.  Your primary care doctor can be a valuable member of your team in this effort by making sure you are doing the right things at the right time to promote health and wellness. As you move on in life, your preventative health doctor will make sure that you are able to get the screening tests recommended for your age and gender, as part of secondary prevention.  Having an established relationship with your doctor allows them to act quickly and knowledgeably when and if tertiary prevention is needed.

People will always make poor choices about some health issues, for a wide variety of reasons, but the more that we can help each other to follow healthy guidelines and practice preventative health, the better our community will be.  After all, what’s better than beating a life threatening disease? Never getting it in the first place. 

If you would like a primary care provider who practices preventive medicine, schedule an appointment at one of our Providence Family Medicine practices by clicking here

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Dr. Beth Neilsen completed her medical education at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, following a residency and internship with AnMed Health Family Medicine. Board certified in family medicine, her specialties include preventative care, nutrition and wellness, diabetes management, and well youth care. Dr. Neilsen enjoys reading mystery novels and spending time with family. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina.