In addition to the lack of clear benefit, general health checks potentially cause harm. Among the harms are the diagnosis of conditions that were never destined to cause symptoms or death and the risk for unnecessary treatment
“It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase”—David Foster Wallace
When one is healthy one should avoid any kind of check-up for any reason. How does one know that s/he is healthy? It is very simple. The present definition of health is “enthusiasm to work and enthusiasm to be compassionate.” For all practical purposes the definition of health in Ayurveda is still better. If one lives by the simple laws of nature and has enthusiasm to work, has good appetite, gets good sleep at night, has all the excretory functions under control, avoids the two deadly enemies of good health viz. alcohol and tobacco, with the mind filled with universal compassion having no negative feelings of anger, pride, jealousy, hatred and greed, s/he will have to be healthy. If one has developed bad habits then s/he will have to see the doctor for various symptoms of ill health.
Lay people should know the simple laws of human physiology lest they should fall prey to the constant advertisement claptrap of the screening industry which makes it appear that routine a check-up would keep one healthy and keep one here for ever! The human body is built with an indwelling doctor, our immune system, along with the autonomic nervous system for emergency care, both of which tries and keeps us healthy under all circumstances of daily routine or even under emergency situations. There are no dangers in the artificially-created new diseases like pre-diabetes, pre-hypertension, pre-cancer etc. Every one of us will have several cancer seeds inside us daily but very rarely do any of them become a real cancer. The body’s immune system tries to correct all abnormalities under all circumstances without external help. It is only in the unlikely event that our immune system is compromised for any reason do we suffer from an illness when symptoms let us know that something is amiss. It is only in this symptomatic stage that external help from the medical world might assist the immune system to correct the anomaly. That is why Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, advised doctors: “to cure rarely, comfort mostly, but console always.” In short, a doctor can only help the inner physician.
Studies have now convincingly proven that any attempt to either drug or intervene in the pre-symptomatic stage will only create more problems—the new name for that is “disease creep”. The screening industry will only make newer diseases creep on you—a misadventure. There is no pill for every ill but there is an ill following every pill. Although pills thrill they could positively kill.
Even in surgery the real healing comes from our own doctor. When one breaks a bone the arthropod might set it right but the healing has to come from within. The body’s doctor is so ingenious and modern that the ordinary red blood cell derived from the clot at the site of the fracture gradually turns itself into a pluri-potent stem cell to heal the wound and the bone! This was elegantly shown by Robert Becker in the early sixties in New York. Although his paper got published in Nature and Science, the medical world hardly knows about it. We are trying to build in vain our exogenous stem cells without any success. No surgeon of repute including the most illustrated ones, can heal a wound after surgery. The healing again has to come from our inner healer who, like magic, can convert any cell into a stem cell capable of producing all structures! No surgeon can make an operation heal in a dead body.
I must warn those that smoke and drink alcohol to be careful as their symptom recognising skills could be dulled to a great extent. They need to see their doctors more frequently, though! For over four decades I have been fighting a losing battle against the screening juggernaut without much success! I am relieved now that the world’s greatest medical data base, the Cochrane database has thrown up exactly what I have been advocating for decades. It brings unbounded joy to me to present their data to the lay readers so that they need not become victims of diseases creep on them. I have extensively written elsewhere as to why screening fails since we do not have anything called ‘normal’ in medical science. We are only talking of statistical averages which we use synonymously with ‘normal’ to make money from false positive results that abound in such a situation. I am not elaborating on that here for want of space.
“Performing general health checks and screening asymptomatic adults for diseases or their risk factors did not reduce either overall morbidity or mortality, according to a review published online October 17 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
The large number of participants and deaths in the studies, the long follow-up, and the absence of a reduction in cardiovascular and cancer mortality suggest that general health checks are unlikely to be beneficial, conclude Lasse T Krogsbøll, MD, and colleagues, all from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark.
Health checks of healthy people are a recent phenomenon, the authors noted. The evolution of medicine and new diagnostic methods in the latter half of the twentieth century, they write, has “increased expectations that many diseases can be prevented or discovered before there is irreversible damage.” However, studies such as this one suggest that these expectations may not be met, they add.
Benefits Smaller, Harms Greater
In addition to the lack of clear benefit, general health checks potentially cause harm, the authors write. “Experience from screening programmes for individual diseases have shown that the benefits may be smaller than expected and the harms greater,” they note.
Among the harms they cite are the diagnosis of conditions that were never destined to cause symptoms or death and the risk for unnecessary treatment. “While we cannot be certain that screening leads to benefit, all medical interventions can lead to harm,” the authors note. The study, however, did not document harm.
The researchers “make an excellent point that a well person can go in for a general check-up and have screening done that can lead to a cascade of events that can lead to more harm than good,” Glen Stream, MD, MBI, chair of the board of directors at the American Academy of Family Physicians, said.
Now that the Holy water has come from the western conch, our westernised people also can avoid diseases creep on them by not going for a routine check up when healthy. Please note that any symptom, however trivial you think that is, should merit a family physician’s consultation, not necessarily to start on drugs but to put your heads together to see what needs to be done. Do not neglect any symptom. Never self treat yourself.
Candace Pert, the lady who found out for the first time the existence of opiate receptors outside the brain but failed to get her a Nobel due to her boss wanting his name also in the paper, writes in her book: “Time will soon come when we have a headache, instead of reaching for the drug cupboard, we would be sitting down to meditate to get to the correct level of relaxation to secrete the right opiates from our forebrain to relive the headache!”
“Advertising—A judicious mixture of flattery and threats”—Stephen Leacock
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(Professor Dr BM Hegde
, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, Chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London. Prof Dr Hegde can be contacted at [email protected]