I have MS. Isn't that enough? Haven't I already received my allotted dose of bad luck regarding my health?
Unfortunately, those of us with MS are just as likely as anyone else to develop other chronic diseases. Some of us may even be at increased risk, due to adverse effects of certain medicines and the disabling effects of MS itself, making it hard to stay active.
Many chronic diseases – like MS - are beyond our control. We can't do anything to prevent them. The causes are unknown, and the course of the disease is uncertain.
But other chronic diseases, including some of the most common and damaging, are often preventable. While other factors, such as genetics and the environment, play a role, in many cases, our lifestyle choices - especially diet and exercise - can doom us to diseases like diabetes and heart failure or significantly improve our odds of a healthy, long life.
(Warning: I'm jumping on my soapbox again.) There IS a magic formula to improve longevity and quality of life. It's not trendy or exciting, but I can't emphasize it enough: Find a way to exercise most – or all – days of the week. Eat a well-balanced, mostly plant-based diet. Don't smoke. Don't drink to excess.
AND get tested for chronic disease. As with screening tests for cancer, screening for chronic disease can help identify risk factors and detect disease early, when it is usually easier to manage.
Heart disease and stroke are still the #1 and #4 causes of death, respectively, in the U.S. High cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes all significantly increase the risk for both. Diabetes, which now affects 9.4% of the U.S. population – also can cause chronic kidney disease, blindness, and nerve damage and pain.
Screening tests are easy to do, and a doctor can order the right tests and help interpret the results. Here are some of the most important tests that are widely recommended:
· Blood pressure checks should be done routinely at each visit with the primary care physician. Nearly 30% of U.S. adults have hypertension, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and chronic kidney disease. Hypertension is sometimes called the "silent killer" because it usually doesn't cause any symptoms, yet it can still lead to significant damage.
· Cholesterol screening is recommended for most men starting at age 20-30 and women starting at age 30-35, though guidelines vary and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke should be considered.
· Diabetes screening should be done, especially since almost a quarter of people with diabetes are unaware of their condition. The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for type 2 diabetes annually in everyone starting at age 45 and in those younger than 45 with major risk factors.
· Bone density tests are used to screen for osteoporosis, a condition that can lead to hip, spine, and other fractures by causing weak bones. Usually bone density tests are recommended for women beginning at age 65, but they may be considered earlier depending on risk factors. Older men may also benefit from bone density testing, depending on age and risk factors.
A couple other screening tests to consider include testing for HIV and screening for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
I'm stuck with a life sentence of MS, and I can't do anything to change that. But I am doing everything I can to avoid additional disease. I hope you'll do the same. Check out this amazing myhealthfinder app to find out exactly what tests may be recommended for you. And please share your stay-healthy strategies in the comments below.