Traditionally, medical care has been more reactive than proactive. Treatment for a medical issue usually begins when the symptoms occur instead of focusing on preventing the disease in the first place. Personal health care seeks to change this by recognizing that people are unique — and their health care should reflect this uniqueness.
Much like our genes decide whether we have brown eyes or blue eyes, they also impact whether we are more likely to have certain diseases or how our bodies will respond to treatments for those diseases. Instead of believing that one treatment will work for everyone, doctors use genetic testing to decide the best treatments.
Not only that, but doctors use these tests to predict if a person is susceptible to certain diseases. With this knowledge, doctor and patient can put together a personal healthcare plan and take the necessary steps to minimize the effects of the disease or possibly avoid it altogether.
Part of personal health care is using the information our genetics offer to predict if a person has a high risk for certain diseases. If the tests show that a person runs the risk of developing high cholesterol, he or she can work with doctors to create a health plan that incorporates a diet to cut down that risk.
One genetic test that women with a family history of breast cancer opt to have performed is the BRCA gene test. While the BRCA gene mutation is uncommon, if inherited, the mutation is responsible for 5% of breast cancers and about 15% of ovarian cancers. If women who have the test done learn they carry the gene, they and their doctors can discuss plans on how to reduce the risk of cancer.
Cancer occurs as a result of damage to our genes. This damage occurs for three reasons: One, the gene simply wears out, which is why we see higher cancer rates as we age. Two, there are toxins in our environment, such as cigarette smoke, that cause damage to these genes. Finally, there's a possibility that we are born with these defective genes. In cases such as this, tests can help predict if the person is at risk for cancer.
If a person does develop cancer, personal health care can also be used to help in treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved two new drugs in the fight against cancer. These drugs, one for breast cancer and one for melanoma, have been specifically created to target the exact gene mutations that caused the cancer.
Personal health care is even changing the way doctors treat depression. For years, doctors knew that antidepressants worked well for some while not working at all for others. Now, they're beginning to understand that the P450 enzyme plays a role in how our bodies absorb and process medications.
Since the P450 enzyme is an inherited genetic trait, doctors can use genetic testing to see how a patient might respond to certain antidepressants. With this knowledge, doctors and patients can create a personalized plan to immediately fight depression, instead of waiting for months experimenting with different medications.
The medications used in treatments today often involve a lot of trial and error. Just a quarter of cancer drugs are effective in the patients who take them. Only 2-in-10 fibromyalgia sufferers report real improvement when taking their prescribed medications. Altogether, prescription medications are only effective for half of the patients who receive them.
Personal health care strives to make sure patients are getting the right medication suited for their bodies. With the correct medication, the chance of a successful outcome without unnecessary side effects increases greatly.
Doctors are beginning to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine doesn't work. Every person is different, and each body will respond to treatments and medications differently. Personal health care seeks to incorporate these differences to provide better health care for all.
Hailey Robinson is a recent graduate with a degree in journalism. Now that she isn't face first in books, she is trying to travel as much as she can. She writes in her free time between fixing up her new house and teaching people how to live a longer, healthier life.