Intercepting three silent killers

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2013

Hypertension, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer share some important characteristics. They affect large numbers of people, they are silent for long periods, they are difficult if not impossible to cure when they become established and they can be identified in their earliest stages with non-invasive screening tests. To be sure, there are other conditions such as coronary artery disease that kill more Americans but in that specific example there is no simple, reliable, non-invasive test that can identify its victims. In fact, among the 1,000 persons who die each day of sudden cardiac arrest, death is the first symptom of heart disease.

Yet, many heart disease victims' lives could have been extended, perhaps for decades, if they had been screened for high blood pressure. Hypertension usually develops gradually over several years and it causes almost no symptoms. It is the single most important treatable cause of heart disease and stroke and it often begins in early adolescence. Everyone should have an annual blood pressure check starting in childhood, especially those who have a family history of heart disease or stroke, or who are overweight or obese.

Blood pressure devices are so inexpensive, reliable and easy to use that every family should have one. Since a single blood pressure reading is not diagnostic, especially in the stressful atmosphere of a physician's office, measuring it a couple of times a day over several days is worth the time and effort. The upper number (systolic) should be less than 125 and the lower (diastolic) less than 80. It's true that blood pressure increases with age but that is not normal; it is simply common.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Everyone should be screened with an annual fasting blood sugar starting at age 40. For those with a family history of the disease, obese individuals or any non-Caucasian, screening should start in adolescence. More than half of those who have type 2 diabetes have at least one complication at the time of diagnosis. The blood test can identify persons with pre-diabetes, half of whom will develop full-blown disease within a decade.

Colon cancer screening begins with a test for blood in the stool, done once yearly from age 50. A colonoscopy should be done at that time and repeated at 60. Yes, the preparation is uncomfortable but sedation makes the procedure itself quite tolerable. It can be a lifesaver.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.