For my end-of-the-year blog entry, I’d like to have everybody think about their own personal dashboard.
What exactly do I mean by this?
Well, everyone that has driven a car is familiar with the dashboard on their car. There are an assortment of warning lights that come on, alerting the driver that something may wrong with the vehicle. They range from the traditional “check engine” light, to symbols that indicate your tire air pressure is low, alerts that you may be low on oil, the engine temperature is too high, or that some other mechanical problems has triggered an alert, which may put you and the vehicle at risk.
From personal experience, my sense is that most people are sensitized to react sooner than later to an alert that comes up on their dashboard. It’s usually something that is not ignored, and action tends to be taken. There’s always a sense that your personal safety may be at risk if one of these indicator lights is coming on. The last thing we want happening to us, or a loved one, is to see the check engine light come on, and then at a moment’s notice, their vehicle is completely inoperable. Who would want a loved one disabled on the side of the road at night due to a malfunction? Conventional wisdom typically dictates that these automobile warning lights are addressed.
How about if we take this analogy to the human body?
All of us at one time or another have had an internal check engine light that goes off, but ignored. The pain on your side, that chronic headache that doesn’t go away, the report of high blood pressure or pre-diabetes, increasing body weight year over year, or that stomach pain you’ve been complaining of may all be an early warning that something is amiss. These signs and symptoms simply do not receive the immediate attention that one gives to the automobile dashboard alerts.
Why this is remains unclear to me, though it is something I see every single day in my own practice.
I see patients that have problems and complaints, or some abnormality on their lab work, that they’ve known about for weeks, months, or even years. There is simply a level of neglect on the part of the person that is taking place. Can it be that people take better care of their car or iPhone than they do of themselves? But what about ourselves? Years of neglect, denial, and poor care of oneself also leads to poor performance, an unsafe situation, as well as unnecessarily high medical bills.
The proverbial personal dashboard would include a gauge with all of your vital organs and their function that would light up when things are starting to go awry. These gauges we need to be aware of include the following categories plus many more:
Your Weight: An increase in weight is associated with high blood pressure, the development of diabetes, fatty liver, which can lead to cirrhosis, and an increased risk of cancer. This gradual increase in weight seen with so many adults should be an early warning the things are going to go wrong for you.
Your Blood Pressure: in the majority of cases, most have no symptoms. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure, and kidney failure. The majority of individuals with kidney failure on dialysis have hypertension. Subtle changes in blood pressure needs to be addressed.
Patterns of Urination: are you urinating too much, too little (compared to before); what’s the color and smell?
Bowel Movement Pattern: has your bowel movement pattern changes, the size of your stool, is there blood, does it smell (more than usual), do you have pain?
Heart and Respiratory Rates: do you notice an unusually fast or slow heart rate, or extra beats? Is your breathing more labored when you move about? Are you coughing and producing excessive mucus?
As I’ve said many times to my patients, you need to be your best advocate.
While your doctor may casually mention a particular problem, you need to realize that internally a check engine light has gone off and you need to look more carefully under the hood to find the problem, fix it, and avert more serious complications. We have a natural inclination to deny anything is wrong with us. Most people don’t like going to the doctor. Most don’t like going for tests and being poked and prodded. Most would rather do anything else then subject themselves to a detailed examination. But the reality is that these subtle findings, the things that make the dashboard alert go off, need to be carefully addressed.
One thing is for sure. Early intervention, early diagnosis, and early treatment, sometimes very simple steps, can make all the difference in the world. Don’t ignore your dashboard alerts.
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