In a nut shell, epidemiology is the study of illness and disease affecting a population’s health. It is also an applied science specific to the incidence of disease in populations as opposed to the individual. I believe basic knowledge of this highly specialized job can provide individuals with a better understanding in prevention of disease and relative-timely medical referrals for ill-health conditions. My point is if we could learn how to use specific data to our advantage in seeking to identify and treat our ill-health, we would be much more successful at alleviating pain-illness and maintaining better overall health and happiness. This does not mean you need a degree in epidemiology to apply a common sense approach to find resolve to a specific ill-health problem. What it does mean, by understanding how science identifies and treats epidemics in populations; the basic principles of this knowledge can provide the individual a better ill-health troubleshooting skill set that many centurions use to improve upon quality living experiences as they age!
The work of epidemiologists includes researching risk factors in environment that cause illness and disease, clinical identification/study of illness agent, data collection, etc., of infected people and treatment of environmental out breaks on population. What most don’t understand, epidemiologists rely on a vast array of disciplines in order to identify an ill-health outbreak. In order to understand how ill-health is disseminated on a population requires an understanding and mastery by these experts; and those specialized in the fields of biology, sociology, mathematics, statistics, anthropology, psychology and policy (research policy and bureaucracy impact data results and interpretation). So the one cause-one effect leading to illness and death rarely is a single environmental, lifestyle or other biological, virus, etc., contributor on a population. Instead, multiple factors, circumstances and opportunity within environment typically lead to an epidemic that would create the lethal agent outbreak impacting an entire population. If pain alleviation and ill-health prevention wisdom is the result of knowing how to apply some of this basic knowledge.
With a broad range of potential bio-agents and psychosocial cause factors, ill-health agents can attack the physical mind-body from many internal and external cause fronts. Understand that each one of us is a 3-part being that requires a healthy environment which caters to the mind, body and spirit. Also recall, the internal biological neural highways, mind-body (psychosomatic) connection can depress the body’s physical biology and spirit. The same is true of body-spirit pain which can depress the bio-mind making any part of being sick through the psychosomatic connection. We are a 360 degree feedback being. In other words, we all have the ability to think ourselves into ill-health conditions when our internal and external environments depress us through infection worsening a condition. For example, we do not become only because of environmental agents. When our encompassing being is depressed, we are more susceptible to ill-health.
Lets look at one example where epidemiologists have used specialized data collection tools to determine ill-health cause, treat and save lives in populations, than use this as a model to avoid ill-health.
Before water and food sanitation practices evolved many people got extremely sick from the cholera bacteria. This bacterium dispersed within a population from feces, or other effluents (vomit, diarrhea, etc.) that contaminated their living space; water and food sources, etc. Cholera would not only be in the water source but would then spread to coastal water ways for example and attach itself to shellfish contaminating those whose diet in part was dependent on them. Through consumption of shellfish the bacteria would continue its assault on distant coastal populations. This chain of events could then contaminate local and distant water/food supplies, dwellings, etc., which infected people within communities.
By collecting relavant data points from an infected area, i.e., signs and symptoms of people and their habits, lifestyle, etc., soil samples, water, food, etc., epidemiologists are able to find the common denominator(s) likely responsible for wiping out huge populations… in the past before the Cholera bacteria agent was identified. Once this agent was identified, preventative sanitation and treatment practices were put into effect and outbreaks in civilized populations became nonexistent. Today these specialists collect data and provide consumers and other interest groups risk data and advisement on poor diet, smoking (second hand smoke), sewage-sanitation systems/practices, food preparation/storage, various environmental impact studies, toxic product identification, pandemic containment advisement etc., and the list goes on.
So what can we take away from this wisdom? After all most of us aren’t epidemiologists with expertise in statistical analysts and vector causing illness and disease studies. Regardless, there are lessons to be learned and tools you can use to stay safe. Much like the epidemiologist approach in discovery, you can use similar knowledge to stay healthy. So what is the take away? When seeking relative and timely treatment to ill-health signs and symptoms, it is beneficial to provide a doctor as much information as possible for an expedient diagnosis, treatment and recovery of ailment. This means recording specific data much like an epidemiologist does to determine the cause and effect of an agent afflicting a population. By learning how to target the cause agent a likely solution can be applied before it causes further damage to your overall health. What kind of data you ask?
Personal and family medical history, lifestyle, daily habits [drugs, drink, smoking…], time/day of pain, and frequency of event, duration, signs-symptoms, products/food you consume, etc. Environment, job, relationship that causes stress in your life for example. Now you are collecting data that can be shared with a medical specialist, whereas a common ill-health denominator may likely be determined. By collecting daily data on environment, habits, signs and symptoms, etc., you are providing biological, psychological, diet, physical, statistical and social environmental information that will provide a likely inference on a cause agent(s) leading to successful diagnosis and treatment.
Below are 12 data points of interest you can track for self to share with a physician before consultations; much like an epidemiologist would collect to increase probability of targeting harmful agents by sharing collected data with other specialists to rid a population of a likely cause agent. You too must also do some homework by providing suspected cause agent data to your physician for the best treatment outcome.
Information and Data Cause Agent Source Example/Ideals for the individual: 1) Use the Internet to research your symptoms/treatment solutions and visit chat rooms-forums to learn more about suspected illness and disease. 2) If diagnosed with substantiated illness-disease buy self-help books from experts, or visit your local library for successful treatment solutions/ideals. 3) Talk to parents, siblings and blood relatives to see if there is a genetic ill-health connection, cause and what was the treatment. Did the illness worsen, or improve with treatment? 4) Are your symptoms caused from poor diet? 5) Do you engage in unhealthy habits, i.e., smoking, drinking, poor diet? 6) Are you active, or do you live a sedentary lifestyle? 7) Do you socialize, practice spiritualism, or are you a recluse? 8) Do you encounter daily environmental/product toxins at work/home hobbies, living area etc.? 9) Are you involved in a stressful relationship, job and/or family? 10) Do you take prescription medications, if so what kind & how long? 11) Are you generally depressed? If so, do you understand why? 12) Have you had a past injury, allergy, infection that remains problematic, untreated, causes pain and/or depression?
A process of environmental cause agent elimination can benefit your ill-health quest by collecting these daily data points and plotting them on a graph for example. Simply list your data point suspicions horizontally. Next list each column by the day with a 3 category code in bold: Worse, No Change, or Better. This way you begin to plot data where status change of condition can easily be noted and shared with your treating physician(s).
By becoming knowledgeable of signs and symptoms caused via lifestyle-environment, one can begin the process of removing potential cause agent sources out of the equation that may be impacting, or depressing the mind, body and spirit. For example, if you suspect something in your diet is the source of your problem; remove the potential suspect source agent for a couple of weeks to see if this improves your condition(s) plot and code the data points daily. This can easily be done in between consultations which can be shared with treating physician(s). Note: Do not put off seeing a physician before you start this process. Instead, seek medical attention as soon as possible if you feel you have a serious medical condition and chart your medical condition suspicion study simultaneously.
There are many other ways an ill-health cause agent can catch you off guard. But this data collection insight will provide a starting point of suspected agent(s) data when consulting with physicians and specialists. Then again, this is important why? Because all too often we seek medical attention without providing valuable historical, recent signs/symptoms data during the physician consult. This all too often leads to untimely and non relavant treatment!
You don’t have to have the expertise of an epidemiologist, but only understand the importance of data collection to better analyze an ill-health conditions. In many ways, we the patient depend too heavily on doctors to fix, or treat us with a pill. Then follow up based on severity of signs and symptoms that never completely resolve. All to often treatment will remove signs and symptoms temporarily. But it does not address the underlying environmental stressors and habitual and lifestyle cause agents of our long term ill-health.
Through preventative knowledge and timely self referred medical advocacy much pain and suffering can be alleviated. Many centurions have achieved longevity because they have a basic understanding of epidemiologists wisdom.
If you want to experience long term healthy life benefits with family as you age, there is much to be learned and applied from an epidemiologist wisdom and perspective. In doing so your more likely to live life to the fullest by living the lifestyle you need, want and deserve now!
Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET. 2010 Copyright. All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @: www.mirrorathlete.org, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.