Underlying Health Conditions? It’s called life.

Preventative healthcare is something that all doctors aspire to provide. After you’ve been in the field long enough, you wish you could stop a problem before someone has to live with it or catch it early so it doesn’t negatively affect our lives.

While some chronic conditions are very manageable with relatively minor changes, others can be rather debilitating and take control of a part of your life.

So, to hear the phrase “Underlying Health Condition” be bandied about more as an excuse as for why people have either succumbed to COVID-19, it really frustrates us because we sit here knowing that 47% of Australians have at least one of the top 10 chronic conditions, and 20% have 2 or more. These aren’t small numbers.

The pandemic also highlighted to many that there’s a lot of people out there without a regular GP (or a regular clinic at least). So, when they said, “see your regular doctor”, a lot of people realised they didn’t have one.

Maybe they didn’t need one yet.

Or maybe they hadn’t had that connection to know what a good relationship with a GP or clinic can do for them.

But if you’re reading this blog post, then maybe you’ve realised it might be time to see if you have any underlying health conditions. Or maybe it was the trigger to start thinking about how to manage yours better. So here are a few tips on what to think through and how to tackle what can seem like impossible long-term problems, or things that might seem a million years away.

Taking stock of your health

If you want to be healthier, reduce risk of things that are far off in the distance, or improve your condition now – it’s good to know what the baseline is. None of the things we measure will singularly define if you are healthy or not. Not your weight, not your waist, not your cholesterol. But combined together, with how you feel, your habits, diet and sleep can give us clues as to what might happen, what might be causing the way you feel, and guide us as to what needs to be done to improve health.

Health is not just the absence of disease

“At least you’ve got your health”.

True, but why don’t we feel healthy if there’s nothing wrong? Well, not everything can be measured in a blood test or with imaging. We are incredibly complex organisms, with so many interconnected systems all trying to stay alive and survive, protecting a brain that has evolved to worry about such a variety of things that concerns might include things like “what if there’s no good internet on Mars?” all the way to “what do I do if we really run out of toilet paper?”.

The World Health Organisation definition of health is a good start. They define health as.

A state of complete physical, mental and socialwell-being and not merely the absence ofdisease or infirmity

1948 WHO definition of health

But the Indigenous definition of health goes a bit further, and it just feels right.

“Aboriginal health” means not just the physical well-being of an individual but refers to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole Community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential as a human being thereby bringing about the total well-being of their community. It is a whole of life view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs)

So, let’s reframe health that way and move forward from there

Homework first

So back to taking stock.

It can be worth exploring some family history if you have access to it. Ask people who might know about conditions you had as a child, which specialists you saw, what you had. Get this down on a list and try think of when it happened, who looked after you, what was the plan.

Then ask family members about their own medical conditions, when they were diagnosed and what the treatment is. Then move onto grandparents, aunts and uncles. Beyond second degree relatives’ things are less important but can be interesting. You might see trends of lots of autoimmune disease, or other important trends.

Next just take note of how you feel in general. Are you worried all the time? Unmotivated to do anything? Sad? Tired? Or do you generally feel ok.

Are there aches and pains your kind of just accept? Things that come and go, but don’t bother you so much? How often do you empty your bowels? (That can be very variable and lots of different kinds of normal – but worth thinking if things have changed or interfere with your life).

How is your sleep? Is the schedule regular, with routine wake and sleep times. Do you wake often in the night? Do you snore? Do you always feel like you haven’t had enough sleep?

How is your diet? (we’re opening Pandora’s box here where evidence mixes with emotion and politics). There are a lot of healthy eating styles, and some styles that don’t suit you even if they’re healthy. Some people eat like a horse and can’t seem to gain weight. Others feel like the smell of food makes them gain weight. Others find that certain foods don’t make them feel well, and others can only tolerate the smell, taste or texture of specific foods. There was a case of blindness due to vitamin A deficiency in WA a few years ago, and no one realised that you can be that deficient of a nutrient here in Australia.

If you make an appointment with an empathetic caring GP and go in with the goal of taking stock – these are the things, we’ll explore with you over time and help guide you. But thinking about these before you go in can point us in the right direction.

Making the time

Like all important things in life, you have to carve out a little time for it.

At GSH we like to make 30-minute appointments for new patients so we can take that extra time to get as much important information about your health – because we know it matters in the long run. So, it is worth first making a 30-minute appointment to tackle some of the long-term health planning even if you’re feeling great.

If required, we’ll be requesting some tests depending on your risk factors and how you’re feeling. Then we’ll schedule another catch up to discuss how things change the picture, and what we should do.

We’ll then map out a little bit of a plan – it might only be a small change and a review in 3 months. Or it might be catching up with your GP more frequently. We might need other people to help who have specialised expertise like our nurses, a physio or psychologist, or an organ specific specialist.

But at the end of the day, we either make time now, or we have to make time when we run into problems.

Underlying health condition? It’s just life.

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone with absolutely zero underlying health issues. It’s the human condition. But the earlier we find these, the sooner we manage them, the less likely they are to cause any significant issues either on their own – or if we are attacked by a novel systemic rapidly spreading virus – like the thing going on right now.

So, let’s be more ready together. We love preventing stuff.