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Patterns of Wellness — How to Handle Your Health Fears

Health can be a scary topic. For one thing, it’s the great unknown: we don’t really know what’s going on inside our bodies and whether everything is working the way it should. Unlike a car’s check-engine light, there’s no clear-cut signal that we can rely on when we are wondering if that “funny noise” (the unexplained ache or pain or general feeling of not being up to par) is something that needs a mechanic (aka, our healthcare provider) or is just a minor annoyance that we can safely ignore.

And then there is the cost question: if we go to the doctor and it turns out to be something or if our doctor wants to run more tests before reaching a diagnosis, how are we going to pay for it? Or, if it turns out to be nothing, then we feel like we wasted money that could be better used for other necessities. Maybe, we think, it was all in our head. Maybe we should have waited until we were really sick before calling for an appointment. Maybe all this talk about preventive care just doesn’t apply to people like us.

Finally, there is that fear that lurks in the back of our mind when we think about our health in relation to that of other family members. If our father died of a heart attack at fifty, does that mean we will, too? If our mother had breast cancer, is that what’s waiting in the wings for us as well? 

So many questions, so many fears. It’s no wonder that nearly half of people surveyed said they didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick or injured, and more than a third went without a routine physical or other preventive health care. However, avoiding medical care when needed or skipping routine check-ups may mean that small or preventable issues have the chance to become bigger problems, putting your health and wallet at risk, according to a Journal of General Internal Medicine article.

So what’s the solution? Here are some recommendations from [SICHC source] at Southern Indiana Community Health Care to help you overcome your health fears and become a proactive patient.


Undertaking Preventive Maintenance for Your Body

Going back to the idea of your body as a car, you already know there are certain tasks you need to handle on a regular basis to keep your vehicle operating at its best: change the oil, check the tires, and replace the brakes, to name just a few. Some you might be able to handle on your own while others require an expert mechanic who can also check for hidden issues that can damage your car’s systems. 

The same is true for your body. While you may know when your body’s “engine” is running rough, sometimes there are problems that don’t become apparent until they’ve already done some damage. For instance, high blood pressure or hypertension is called “the silent killer” because it can increase your risk for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, among other things—all while giving no obvious symptoms of its presence. Another common illness is type 2 diabetes that often has few or no symptoms in the early stages. But by the time it has worsened, it can cause heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

This is where doing regular “maintenance” on your body—undergoing routine physicals or other preventive health care actions—can help you and your healthcare provider assess your overall condition, identify potential problem areas, and make the changes needed to keep your body’s systems running smoothly.


Handling the Cost of Healthcare

Healthcare costs money. We know that. But fortunately, there are a variety of local, state and federal programs to help reduce the expenses related to medical treatment and preventive care. Many healthcare practices, like SICHC, offer a sliding scale for eligible patients that’s based on income and other criteria. Programs such as Indiana Medicaid, Hoosier Healthwise, Hoosier RX (for those on Medicare) and can also help you afford medical care. 

But the most important point to understand is that, the longer you go without identifying and addressing a health problem, the more it’s going to cost in the end when it becomes too big to ignore. Think of your body like your car. Sure, you can save a few dollars initially by skipping the regular oil changes or tune-ups or not paying attention to the blinking light on the dash. But when you do that, little by little damage is being done to your car’s engine until one day, it simply won’t run, and what was once a small maintenance cost has suddenly ballooned into a major and expensive repair. The same can happen to your body.


Identifying Potential Health Risks

Ask experienced car mechanics what problems are common to what vehicles, and they can usually rattle of which ones are more likely to have engine issues, brake problems or body areas prone to deterioration. This information helps you when you’re purchasing a car, or, if you own that specific make and model, knowing what to watch out for and address before it happens.

That’s the same thing a family health history can do for you. The more you know about the illnesses or diseases that other family members have or had, the sooner you can make lifestyle changes to reduce or eliminate the possibility of the same condition happening to you. Some conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, can run in families, increasing your odds of developing them unless you take proactive steps.

And by sharing your family health history with your healthcare provider, you’ll have a better understanding of the potential risks as well as the screening tests that can help pinpoint the odds of you contracting that illness. Some family health history information to gather includes the age at which deceased members died and the cause of death; medical conditions and the age when diagnosed for family members, lifestyle habits (for instance, alcohol or tobacco use, substance abuse), any pregnancy complications and any mental health conditions. Ask your healthcare provider if there is other information you should collect in addition to the ones listed above.


Taking Charge of Your Health —and Your Fears

While sometimes the urge to just “ignore it until it goes away” can be almost overwhelming, taking that path can be an expensive and unhealthy choice in the long run. The best way to combat your health fears is with knowledge. The more you know, the more you can do to keep yourself in the best possible condition, and, in the end, the better able you will be to control your fears. The goal is to replace your fears with information.

Not sure what to do next? Call your healthcare provider and schedule a wellness visit to evaluate current health and risk factors and develop or update a personalized prevention plan. If you’re on original Medicare or Indiana Medicaid, the visits are free. If you’re covered by other insurance, check with your insurer or ask your healthcare provider.

© 2021 Southern Indiana Community Health Care.

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