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Preventive healthcare is preventing or slowing the course of an illness or disease.  It consists of measures taken for disease prevention, as opposed to disease treatment.  Just as health comprises a variety of physical and mental states, so do disease and disability, which are affected by environmental factorsgenetic 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.

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.  Leading causes included cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, and certain infectious diseases.  This same study estimates that 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.  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 cancerdiabetes, and chronic cardiovascular and lung diseasesThis is an increase from the year 2000, during which 60% of deaths were attributed to these diseases.  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.  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 cancerdepressionHIV  andother common types of sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydiasyphilis, and gonorrheamammography (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 cancerHowever, these measures are not affordable for every individual and the cost effectiveness of preventive healthcare is still a topic of debate.

A top-20 list of preventive health measures.

What preventive health measures would save the most lives for the least money?

The top rank goes to taking aspirin daily to prevent heart attacks and strokes in men over 40 and women over 50, according to a study reported Wednesday on the Web site of an alliance of health insurers, state health departments, academics, and trade groups.

Immunizing children and discouraging people from smoking follow closely behind.

Below are the top 20 preventive measures in rank order. Preventive measures that are ignored by more than half of those who’d benefit from them are indicated by asterisks.

  • Daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke in men over 40 and women over 50. * 
  • Childhood immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, etc.
  • Tobacco-use screening and brief counseling by doctors.*
  • Routine colorectal-cancer screening for adults 50 and older by any recognized method. *
  • Hypertension screening via routine blood-pressure tests and medication if necessary.
  • Annual flu shots for adults 50 and older.
  • Immunization of adults 65 and older against bacteria that cause pneumonia and related diseases. *
  • Screening and brief counseling of problem drinkers by their physicians. *
  • Vision screening for adults 65 and older. *
  • Cervical cancer screening for sexually active women and women over 21.
  • Cholesterol screening for men 35 and older and women 45 and older.
  • Routine breast-cancer screening for women 50 and older and discussion with women ages 40 to 49 to set an age to begin screening.
  • Routine chlamydia screening for sexually active women under 25. *
  • Calcium-supplement counseling for adolescent girls and women.
  • Vision screening for children under 5.
  • Routine counsel for women of childbearing age on the use of folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects.
  • Obesity screening for adults and high-intensity diet and exercise counseling for the obese.
  • Depression screening for adults.
  • Hearing-impairment screening for adults 65 and over.
  • Promotion of child-safety measures such as car seats, pool fences, bicycle helmets, poison control, and curbs on scalding-water burns.
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