The health of our nation has been dramatically improved by new healthcare initiatives, beginning with the National Hypertension Education Program, which started approximately 25 years ago. By identifying patients with high blood pressure, and lowering and controlling blood pressure through the systematic use of a growing number of effective drugs, the incidence of heart attack and stroke began to fall. The Hypertension Education Program was followed by the National Cholesterol Education Program, which called upon physicians to measure cholesterol and its components. Reduction of cholesterol levels through diet, smoking cessation, exercise, and more recently with cholesterol-lowering drugs, further reduced deaths from heart attack and stroke.
Heart attack, stroke, and other diseases, which are characterized by spasm of overactive arteries, probably are the result of blood pressure responses which at one time were necessary for evolving humans to mobilize energy and to flee dangers such, as attack from predatory animals. These same reflexes can cause harm in the modern era because of vascular damage. This vascular damage is made even worse with tobacco smoking.
A new healthcare initiative, known as the National Lung Health Education Program, (NLHEP), proposes to identify patients at risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD), with the use of simple spirometry in physician's offices. COPD is the result of inflammatory damage of the airways and lung vessels primarily in susceptible smokers. Abnormalities in lung function are also predictive of a high risk of lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
It seems to me that what we need in this country is not just an attack upon isolated diseases, but a holistic healthcare program, designed to stop smoking, control blood pressure, maintain a normal weight, encourage physical activity, and avoid drug abuse. Picking a healthy lifestyle not only reduces the risk of these major diseases, but will combat osteoporosis, depression, and maybe even Alzheimer's disease. In any case, the length and quality of life would be enhanced through a holistic approach to health.
I will be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD