Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she recently had undergone a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer due to her positive test result for the breast cancer gene, is a helpful reminder about the task for all of us to take charge of our health. While this must have been a difficult decision for her, it’s an excellent illustration of remaining vigilant regarding your health and being proactive regarding your health care.
Here are six things you can do to help you to take charge of your health:
- Learn about your family medical history, this includes parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. This will give you a heads up regarding what “runs” in your family; red flags so to speak, to make you aware of some of your possible genetic risks for certain diseases. Knowing this is invaluable. For example, if Heart Disease runs in your family, you’ll want to take extra care to control your weight, exercise daily, not smoke, and eat a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean Diet to help reduce your risk. (These are healthy habits for everyone and help to prevent a variety of diseases, but especially important if your risk is higher.)
- Read up on any medications you are prescribed from side effects to dosing instructions. Educate yourself by reading the package inserts that come from the pharmacy and reading credible medication websites such as MedlinePlus which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.
- If you’re diagnosed with a disease or acute illness, learn as much as you can about it from trusted, professional sources, examples of which are the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) and Medline Plus (as mentioned above) also has a site dedicated to information on illnesses. Maintain an awareness of the typical lab tests that may be required to follow the course of the illness, medications that are generally prescribed to surgeries that may be recommended. Becoming familiar with these things can help you psychologically through your illness and also help you determine if you’re receiving the appropriate care.
- Follow the advice of your physician regarding when to obtain lab tests, taking medications as prescribed and when to follow up with appointments and diagnostics tests such as ultra sounds, MRI’s, CT scans etc.
- Get a second opinion when you feel the need. If your inner voice is nudging you that something does not seem right; seek out a second opinion from another physician.
- Ask questions. While no one expects you to become an expert, be sure to ask questions, especially if you need clarification on any information you received or simply desire more knowledge regarding your diagnosis and particular situation.