It seems like every week we hear in the news about a major medical breakthrough that could impact our health now or in the future.
But with celebrity doctors on TV and so-called health experts on the Internet, the constant stream of health information can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if it goes against long-standing medical recommendations.
If you hear something that raises questions about your own personal healthy decisions, or about a medical treatment for a family member if you’re a caregiver, then don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, says Dr. Bret Ripley, chair of the family medicine department of Des Moines University.
Doctors have access to the latest health information, and they can help patients in making health decisions that best reflect their risk factors and medical history, Ripley says.
For example, a recent medical study gaining widespread attention is the differing recommendations for mammograms to detect breast cancer.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends that women can wait until age 50 to get a mammogram because the risk of false positives, and unnecessary biopsies and lumpectomies, is greater with women younger than 50 years old.
However, the American Cancer Society and several other health groups still recommend mammograms for women ages 40 and older for early detection.
“There are different ways to look at the data, and it gets difficult to decide,” Ripley says. “We look at your personal health risks; family history is the most easy to recognize.
“Part of it comes down to your preference. I know when I discuss it with my patients, I ask them: ‘Would you rather not have a biopsy that was negative, or would you rather find a cancer early, even knowing that you might get five biopsies for one cancer?’”
Ripley says patients will often ask about a new drug they saw advertised on TV or a new therapy they read about on the Internet, but they don’t remember the name of the drug or where they saw the article.
That’s why Ripley recommends printing out the article or writing down the information, so your doctors can look it up if needed.
“The vast majority of my patients come in with good questions,” Ripley says. “Sometimes, patients come in with problems that they wouldn’t have normally told me about unless they saw it on TV; sleep apnea is a common one.
“I much prefer my patients giving me ideas and things to talk about than not being informed. I want my patients to know about their health, to know that exercise is a vital part of making almost everything better, and that a healthy diet is a vital thing, too.”