Dr. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General of the United States from 1981-1989 wrote an article in the September 1999 Readers Digest in which he said:
I have always told my patients, Take charge of your health.
He says that now he adds:
If you don't nobody else will.
That's because in this brave new world of managed care, keeping costs down often takes precedence over providing quality care.
Dr. Koop advises:
Ask for printed material about your condition, whenever available...If the doctor has ordered a test, be sure you understand what he hopes to learn and what risks might be involved...
Dr. Koop's recommend's going to the internet for information but warns that some internet sites don't have reliable information. His web page http://www.drkoop.com rates medical internet sites for credibility. One site he recommends is that of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Koop advises patients to do their homework. He writes that
Elise Needell Babcock learned the importance of doing her homework the hard way. The 37-year-old Houston woman had had two miscarriages and lost a third child when the pregnancy ended in preterm labor. Babcock became pregnant again, and she discovered that a stitch could be inserted in the cervix at nine weeks to prevent miscarriage. From pediatric journals, she learned that women at risk of premature delivery were sometimes given steroid shots to speed the development of the infant's lungs. She asked her HMO doctor to insert the stitch and give her the steroid shots. In due course, she gave birth to a healthy girl.
Dr. Koop also advises that in potentially serious situations one should get a second opinion. He tells the story of a woman by the name of Mary Epperson, who felt a lump in her right breast.
A surgeon told her it was probably just a cyst and that she should wait. Mary knew how fast cancer can spread and wasn't willing to take the risk. She made an appointment with another doctor for a second opinion. The second doctor did a needle biopsy and found that the lump was malignant. The doctor scheduled immediate surgery.
Mary is fine today but if she had waited 6 weeks that might not be the case.
My Experiences with the Medical Profession:
Sometimes physicians overlook the obvious. I have had upper respiratory infections a lot more frequently and for longer periods of time than most people. I went to physicians and they gave me all sorts of tests but never told me to get an air purifier for my room though one did ask me about dust in my room. Ever since I bought an air purifier I have been a lot healthier. Allergies probably make people more prone to upper respiratory infections.
Hospitals have rules that sometimes prevent a proper diagnosis. I had colitis but the hospital would not test my stool because they had a rule that it had to be diarrhea before they would test it. They concluded that I did not have a bacterial infection and started to give me anti-inflammatory drugs with bad side effects. Luckily I insisted that I be tested and they found a bacterial infection. I was given a powerful antibiotic and became well.
I am skeptical about alternative medicine especially about homeopathy which I discuss below. I used to date a woman who when I met her was taking a homeopathic medicine for a yeast infection. It was not going away and she was suffering. I could not convince her to take an over the counter remedy so I left a container of Lotrimin in her apartment. She couldn't resist trying it and soon she was well, yet she clung to her beliefs about homeopathy.
Is homeopathic medicine any good? Should patients stick to conventional medicine. A partial answer to that question comes from understanding the philosophy behind homeopathic medicine. Homeopathy is a system of medical treatment started by Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). Homeopathy is based on the premise that the symptoms of a disease are evidence of a curative process going on in the body in response to the disease. The homeopathic physician attempts to promote the further development of these symptoms in order to accelerate the body's self-cure.
This may be partly true. We get a fever as we fight off disease and the heat of the fever may help in killing the invading bacteria. We throw up when we ingest poison and that helps us eliminate the poison. According to Hahnemann's philosophy we should try and increase our fever and we should try and throw up more. Unfortunately increasing fever and throwing up more can do more damage to our health.
Dr. Robert Carroll writes:
One of the stranger tenets of homeopathy, proposed by Dr. Hahnemann himself, is that the potency of a remedy increases as the drug becomes more and more dilute. Some drugs are diluted so many times that they don't contain any molecules of the substance that was initially diluted, yet homeopaths claim that these are their most potent medications! It is not surprising to find that there is no explanation as to how this happens, or is even possible, though some homeopaths have speculated that the water used to dilute a remedy has a "memory" of the initial substance.
This believe of the homeopaths is contrary to common sense but as a result they dilute their remedies to the point that the only effect they have is the placebo effect.
"Unless the laws of chemistry have gone awry, most homeopathic remedies are too diluted to have any physiological effect...."
---Consumer Reports (January 1987)
"If the FDA required homeopathic remedies to be proved effective in order to remain on the market, homeopathy would face extinction in the United States."
---Stephen Barrett, M.D.
"How do homeopaths explain this supposed potency of infinitesimal doses, even when the dilution removes all molecules of a drug? They invoke mysterious vibrations, resonance, force fields, or radiation totally unknown to science."
--- Martin Gardner
Herbal Medicine: Although some Herbal Medicines such as St. John's Wort can be helpful they also can be harmful. St. John's wort, which can indeed be useful in mild or moderate depression, has been implicated in heart transplant rejection. The herb can render anti-rejection drugs ineffective. A team of researchers has collected all the information available -- from clinical trial results to FDA warnings to individual physician's reports -- on several of the most widely used herbs, and created a set of guidelines that doctors and patients can use to protect themselves. Their complete report appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.
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