Preventive healthcare

Preventive healthcare (alternately preventive medicine, preventative healthcare/medicine, or prophylaxis) consists of measures taken for disease prevention, as opposed to disease treatment.[1] Just as health comprises a variety of physical and mental states, so do disease and disability, which are affected by environmental factors, genetic predisposition, disease agents, and lifestyle choices. Health, disease, and disability are dynamic processes which begin before individuals realize they are affected. Disease prevention relies on anticipatory actions that can be categorized as primal, primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.[1][2][3]

Each year, millions of people die of preventable deaths. A 2004 study showed that about half of all deaths in the United States in 2000 were due to preventable behaviors and exposures.[4] Leading causes included cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, and certain infectious diseases.[4] This same study estimates that 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.[4] According to estimates made by the World Health Organization (WHO), about 55 million people died worldwide in 2011, two thirds of this group from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and chronic cardiovascular and lung diseases.[5] This is an increase from the year 2000, during which 60% of deaths were attributed to these diseases.[5] Preventive healthcare is especially important given the worldwide rise in prevalence of chronic diseases and deaths from these diseases.

There are many methods for prevention of disease. It is recommended that adults and children aim to visit their doctor for regular check-ups, even if they feel healthy, to perform disease screening, identify risk factors for disease, discuss tips for a healthy and balanced lifestyle, stay up to date with immunizations and boosters, and maintain a good relationship with a healthcare provider.[6] Some common disease screenings include checking for hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, a risk factor for diabetes mellitus), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol), screening for colon cancer, depression, HIV and other common types of sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea, mammography (to screen for breast cancer), colorectal cancer screening, a Pap test (to check for cervical cancer), and screening for osteoporosis. Genetic testing can also be performed to screen for mutations that cause genetic disorders or predisposition to certain diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer.[6] However, these measures are not affordable for every individual and the cost effectiveness of preventive healthcare is still a topic of debate.[7][8]

Levels of prevention

Preventive healthcare strategies are described as taking place at the primal, primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention levels. In the 1940s, Hugh R. Leavell and E. Gurney Clark coined the term primary prevention. They worked at the Harvard and Columbia University Schools of Public Health, respectively, and later expanded the levels to include secondary and tertiary prevention.[9] Goldston (1987) notes that these levels might be better described as "prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation",[9] though the terms primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention are still in use today. The concept of primal prevention has been created much more recently, in relation to the new developments in molecular biology over the last fifty years [10], more particularly in epigenetics, which point to the paramount importance of environmental conditions - both physical and affective - on the organism during its fetal and newborn life (or so-called primal life).[11]

Level Definition
Primal and primordial prevention Any measure aimed at helping future parents provide their upcoming child with adequate attention, as well as secure physical and affective environments from conception to first birthday (i.e., over the child's primal period of life[12]).

Primordial prevention refers to measures designed to avoid the development of risk factors in the first place, early in life.[13][14]

Primary prevention Methods to avoid occurrence of disease either through eliminating disease agents or increasing resistance to disease.[15] Examples include immunization against disease, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and avoiding smoking.[16]
Secondary prevention Methods to detect and address an existing disease prior to the appearance of symptoms.[15] Examples include treatment of hypertension (a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases), cancer screenings[16]
Tertiary prevention Methods to reduce the harm of symptomatic disease, such as disability or death, through rehabilitation and treatment.[15] Examples include surgical procedures that halt the spread or progression of disease[15]
Quaternary prevention Methods to mitigate or avoid results of unnecessary or excessive interventions in the health system[17]

Primal and primordial prevention

A separate category of "health promotion" has recently been propounded. This health promotion par excellence is based on the 'new knowledge' in molecular biology, in particular on epigenetic knowledge, which points to how much affective - as well as physical - environment during fetal and newborn life may determine each and every aspect of adult health.[18][19][20][21]. This new way of promoting health is now commonly called primal prevention.[22] It consists mainly in providing future parents with pertinent, unbiased information on primal health and supporting them during their child's primal period of life (i.e., "from conception to first anniversary" according to definition by the Primal Health Research Centre, London). This includes adequate parental leave[23] - ideally for both parents - with kin caregiving and financial help where needed.

Another related concept is primordial prevention which refers to all measures designed to prevent the development of risk factors in the first place, early in life.[13][14]

Primary prevention

Primary prevention consists of traditional "health promotion" and "specific protection."[15] Health promotion activities are current, non-clinical life choices. For example, eating nutritious meals and exercising daily, that both prevent disease and create a sense of overall well-being. Preventing disease and creating overall well-being, prolongs our life expectancy.[1][15] Health-promotional activities do not target a specific disease or condition but rather promote health and well-being on a very general level.[1] On the other hand, specific protection targets a type or group of diseases and complements the goals of health promotion.[15]

Food is very much the most basic tool in preventive health care. The 2011 National Health Interview Survey performed by the Centers for Disease Control was the first national survey to include questions about ability to pay for food. Difficulty with paying for food, medicine, or both is a problem facing 1 out of 3 Americans. If better food options were available through food banks, soup kitchens, and other resources for low-income people, obesity and the chronic conditions that come along with it would be better controlled [24] A "food desert" is an area with restricted access to healthy foods due to a lack of supermarkets within a reasonable distance. These are often low-income neighborhoods with the majority of residents lacking transportation .[25] There have been several grassroots movements in the past 20 years to encourage urban gardening, such as the GreenThumb organization in New York City. Urban gardening uses vacant lots to grow food for a neighborhood and is cultivated by the local residents.[26] Mobile fresh markets are another resource for residents in a "food desert", which are specially outfitted buses bringing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income neighborhoods. These programs often hold educational events as well such as cooking and nutrition guidance.[27] Programs such as these are helping to provide healthy, affordable foods to people who need them.

Scientific advancements in genetics have significantly contributed to the knowledge of hereditary diseases and have facilitated great progress in specific protective measures in individuals who are carriers of a disease gene or have an increased predisposition to a specific disease. Genetic testing has allowed physicians to make quicker and more accurate diagnoses and has allowed for tailored treatments or personalized medicine.[1] Similarly, specific protective measures such as water purification, sewage treatment, and the development of personal hygienic routines (such as regular hand-washing) became mainstream upon the discovery of infectious disease agents such as bacteria. These discoveries have been instrumental in decreasing the rates of communicable diseases that are often spread in unsanitary conditions.[1] Preventing sexually transmitted infections is another form of primary prevention.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention deals with latent diseases and attempts to prevent an asymptomatic disease from progressing to symptomatic disease.[15] Certain diseases can be classified as primary or secondary. This depends on definitions of what constitutes a disease, though, in general, primary prevention addresses the root cause of a disease or injury[15] whereas secondary prevention aims to detect and treat a disease early on.[28] Secondary prevention consists of "early diagnosis and prompt treatment" to contain the disease and prevent its spread to other individuals, and "disability limitation" to prevent potential future complications and disabilities from the disease.[1] For example, early diagnosis and prompt treatment for a syphilis patient would include a course of antibiotics to destroy the pathogen and screening and treatment of any infants born to syphilitic mothers. Disability limitation for syphilitic patients includes continued check-ups on the heart, cerebrospinal fluid, and central nervous system of patients to curb any damaging effects such as blindness or paralysis.[1]

Tertiary prevention

Finally, tertiary prevention attempts to reduce the damage caused by symptomatic disease by focusing on mental, physical, and social rehabilitation. Unlike secondary prevention, which aims to prevent disability, the objective of tertiary prevention is to maximize the remaining capabilities and functions of an already disabled patient.[1] Goals of tertiary prevention include: preventing pain and damage, halting progression and complications from disease, and restoring the health and functions of the individuals affected by disease.[28] For syphilitic patients, rehabilitation includes measures to prevent complete disability from the disease, such as implementing work-place adjustments for the blind and paralyzed or providing counseling to restore normal daily functions to the greatest extent possible.[1]

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Tiếng Việt: Y học dự phòng
中文: 預防醫學