Yesterday I came across a facebook friend’s post that read:
saw the inside of a AAA today. it was disturbing. smoking should be illegal.
So, for those not familiar with medical abbreviations, AAA stands for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Smoking, amongst many other things, can contribute to causing an AAA because it damages your blood vessels, which leads to gross, cholesterol and calcified plague sticking to the walls of the vessels and weakening them. Weakened and damaged blood vessels can become dilated (aneurysm), and if they become too dilated, they can rupture, which often kills.
What’s your point about this and the facebook status, you ask? I’m getting there…..
So, so, so many chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, strokes) are often caused or contributed to by lifestyle choices, which include diet and smoking. The effects of these choices, though, don’t manifest until later in life, and once they do, they are extremely costly to our healthcare system and debilitating to the person.
So why do people still smoke and eat poorly? With no immediate effect, I guess there’s no strong incentive. But part of the problem, I feel, is that people don’t really grasp how horrible the effects of their actions are, and I think there needs to be more blunt, disturbing public health campaigns. Show people pictures of what their vessels will look like! Don’t just tell them they may get cancer, tell them what it feels like to deal with cancer.
**Like, ok, you’re told: if I smoke I’m at increased risk of lung cancer.
But what does that really mean??
Translation (of what lung cancer means): You will develop a huge mass in your lung, that will devour surrounding surrounding airways, leading to collapsed lung and trouble breathing. It will erode into vessels and cause you to cough and spit up blood. It will produce fluid that will surround and fill your lung and make you feel like you’re drowning. Then, it will move onto other parts of your body …. it will cause severe pain as it gnaws away at your bones. If it gets into your brain, your ability to think clearly will be affected. You may end up with a stroke/brain hemorrhage…
**Here’s another example: If I eat lots of sugary, high processed foods, I’m at risk of diabetes.
Translation of “diabetes”: My vessels will become severely damaged everywhere in my body. I may lose circulation to my feet, which can lead to ugly, infected open wounds that never heal and may eventually lead to an amputation. The vessels in my eyes may become affected, and I’ll lose my ability to see well. The vessels in my heart, my coronary arteries, will become more susceptible to plaque and I may end up with heart attack, which will then lead me to a damaged heart (congestive heart failure, or CHF). With CHF, I’ll have trouble breathing when walking just a few blocks.
**Want a third example? Lets address melanoma. If I go out in the sun often without sunscreen or go to tanning beds, I’m at increased risk of skin cancer.
Translation of “cancer”: I will develop a tiny, dark mark on my skin that may look innocent at first, but once it grows deeper, it will become an out of control monster, invading every single organ in the body….eyes, brain, stomach, spine, etc. I will go through rounds of chemotherapy, which basically is a poison to the body….in an effort to kill my malignant cells, the chemotherapy will also kill many of my good cells, causing me to lose my hair, vomit, and leave me weakened. Before I die my young death, I will be pale, bald, and cachectic looking. Hardly worth the tan.
Just read this girl’s story, who succumbed to melanoma at 26:
So, I know this all might sound a bit dramatic, but it IS dramatic. Cancer is horrible. I hate it. I hate it SO much, and I hate the pain it causes people and their families, regardless of the cause of the cancer. I wish I could destroy it, for it is such an evil illness.
I also hate the struggle people must go through who have had strokes. I’ve experience it with my own family. My grandmother, who smoked for the majority of her life, didn’t end up with lung cancer, but suffered a massive stroke.
Not every illness is a direct cause of certain actions…most are multifactorial, and for those that all related to stigmatized behaviors, there are tons of more unhealthy habits that people “get away with” because they aren’t stigmatized by society. However, for those habits that have been proven to increase your risk of certain health conditions, I just wish we could get more education to people about the potential repercussions of their actions. If you’re going to educate them about what they’re at risk for, I believe you have to define what it really means and not sugar coat it or use medical terms that don’t relay the severity of what the disease/health condition entails. Being blunt may not work for everyone, but it works for me, and so it may work for others, and so I think it should be used in addition to other educational methods that promote healthy behavior.