by W. Gifford Jones, M.D. and Diana Gifford-Jones
Common sense health
If ever a time to act on your health, this is it. Study after study in leading medical journals reports compounding troubles from COVID-19. What was described as a lung disease early in the pandemic is now better recognized as an attack on health systems – your own body’s systems involving multiple organs as well as societal systems of disease surveillance and care delivery. Whether you have been infected or not, chances are high your health is becoming worse.
New research should raise alarm bells.
In the journal, Nature, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, reported on deteriorated health of COVID-19 survivors. To his amazement, the disease was not just deadlier for people with underlying conditions like diabetes. Data show that people are seemingly developing metabolic disease as a result of the infection.
How this happens is yet to be understood. Some scientists think SARS-CoV-2 not only damages the lungs, but other organs too. The pancreas which produces insulin needed to convert blood-sugar to energy might be affected by the infection. Another concern is the sedentary lifestyle brought on by the pandemic. Late or missed diagnoses of health issues among people skipping or unable to maintain medical appointments could be a factor.
Obesity and poor lifestyle issues are leading ever more children down the path to avoidable chronic disease. COVID is compounding problems for children who develop Type 2 diabetes. A study of such youth published in Diabetes Care showed a troubling and unexplained increase last year in diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous buildup of acid in the blood due to inadequate insulin supply.
Pregnancy is another area of concern. Research published in JAMA Pediatrics involving 18 countries found COVID-19 in pregnancy was associated with consistent and substantial increases in severe maternal morbidity and mortality and neonatal complications when pregnant women with and without COVID-19 diagnosis were compared. This underscores precautions to prevent COVID illness during pregnancy by following public health measures.
But how is COVID making you sick, even if you don’t catch the virus?
For one, the pandemic has caused a sharp decline in preventative care and screening, particularly for breast, colon, cervical and lung cancers.
One study in California, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that between March and June of 2020, the rate of cervical cancer screening among 1.5 million women decreased by roughly 80%, compared with the same period in 2019.
Another study at the University of Cincinnati Medical Centre found that in March 2020 alone, more than 800 appointments for lung cancer screening were postponed. Upon resumption of screenings two months later, the percentage of people tested who had lung nodules suspicious for cancer had increased from 8% before the pandemic to 29%.
In some health care systems, a rapid switch to at-home screening tests, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) for colorectal cancer, has kept pace with pre-pandemic testing. But in most places, individuals need to take the initiative to request the test kits and get it done.
Delays in screening, especially among people at risk, can mean missing early diagnosis. Cancers may grow larger and more deadly before they are detected.
Delays in all kinds of surgeries are yet another concern.
Research has only begun to emerge regarding the tsunami of mental health problems that have crept or crashed into the lives of many. An echo pandemic of mental illness will almost certainly follow.
So do not wait for trouble. Prevention is key. Make lifestyle changes to improve your health. Get tested where advisable or do at-home screening. Read past articles at docgiff.com if you need reminders.
The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at www.docgiff.com to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, email@example.com.