Are Americans Over Treated For Heart Symptoms?

August 4, 2011

High cholesterol, hardened arteries, high blood pressure, inflammation…heart disease is the number one killer in the US, Canada, and England and these heart symptoms are the first signs. But are we over treating healthy people out of fear?

In the following CBS news video, Dr. John Santa of Consumer Reports discusses a new study that finds healthy adults in their forties–without any heart symptoms–are given more (expensive) tests than they need, often leading to false positives and then even more tests, and sometimes unnecessary treatment.

Rather than ignore the major issue’s that heart symptoms represent, it’s better to take a responsible approach. Patients should research tests, doctors, and treatments, and be aware that there are cheaper, more reliable tests than the heart symptoms tests most often prescribed!

One of the bigger problems of the American medical system is treating everyone as having identical needs, rather than taking a patient by patient approach.

For example, certain genetic conditions or traits that affect heart symptoms can be treated with a low sodium diet, or statins, or other medications, and so everybody of a certain age or with a single system is put on them, despite the fact that genetic testing has become incredibly affordable in the last five years. (I also want to note that people who already have severe heart health issues benefit from these treatments—it’s primary prevention that’s been studied as ineffective).

Those who don’t benefit may be making lifestyle changes, paying for unnecessary treatments with unnecessary side-effects (including stress!), or not getting the treatment they may actually need (rare and hard to treat conditions are left out on the margins).

It’s up to patients to take responsibility for their health, and to demand change from their doctors. For about $100 you can order genetic tests online, or you can talk to your insurance about specific saliva tests.

In the meantime, watch for negative heart symptoms, including easily becoming out of breath, chest pain, increased sweating, and a change in color. Prevention is key—just be sure it’s the right one!
How do you talk to doctors about your health? Share your tips in the comments for good doctor-patient communication!

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