When we think of having a disease, we often anticipate having symptoms of some sort. We imagine we’ll have pain somewhere, get dizzy, or experience stomach problems. But there are a number of silent diseases that can remain hidden until real damage is done.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is known ominously as the “silent killer.” That’s because the first symptom of hypertension is often a stroke or heart attack. Blood pressure naturally varies throughout the day, but when it remains high, with measurements consistently over 140/90, it can damage the small blood vessels in the brain, heart, and kidneys.
This disease affects about 30 percent of the population and can lead to life-threatening complications. For these reasons, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) gives hypertension screening a grade of “A.” They recommend that screening be performed every year for individuals at high risk, and every three to five years for those who are low risk.
Screening is simple, achieved with a blood pressure cuff on the arm and a stethescope – no lab or x-ray tests are needed.
Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease identified by elevated levels of blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin that normally escorts sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells, and is associated with sudeen and dramatic symptoms. Type 2 diabetes is caused by an inability of the body’s cells to take up blood sugar, even when there is plenty of insulin present. People with Type 2 diabetes often develop the disease slowly over time and may have symptoms so mild they are not noticed.
Individuals with Type 2 diabetes are at risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, infections, and blindness. Damage to small nerves such as those the feet can lead to serious infections and even the need for amputation of a foot or leg. Diabetes is a dangerous disease, but people often leave it untreated for years because they “feel just fine.”
Because Type 2 diabetes is most often associated with excess body weight, the USPSTF recommends screening those aged 40 to 70 years old who are overweight or obese. If there are other risk factors besides excess weight, earlier screening will be needed.
Screening for diabetes is very low risk. It involves a simple blood test for Hemoglobin A1c to check the level of sugar in the blood over the last few months. The best evidence suggests that screening every three years is sufficient.
This one is for you Baby Boomers out there in Hunt County. Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver and can remain silent for years or even decades. Some who are infected never develop disease. However, when it does cause disease it is quite severe – cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
The years of peak transmission of Hepatitis C were from the ’60s to the ’80s. That’s why it’s a Baby Boomer concern. And before you think it doesn’t apply to you, many people infected with the virus have no history that would suggest they have a risk for the disease.
In 2010, our ability to test for Hepatitis C improved. Then in 2013, new more effective treatments became available. We can do much to treat Hepatitis C and prevent its complications. This wasn’t the case even a few years ago.
If you were born between 1945 and 1965, the Centers for Disease Control recommend you get tested once. A single blood test will look for antibodies for the disease. If this is positive, and second blood test to confirm the presence of disease will be required. The good news is that once you test negative, you won’t need to be screened for Hepatitis C again.
Visit Your Doctor
Your doctor knows all about these silent but deadly diseases. But they can’t test you for them if you don’t visit once in a while! This is one of the many reasons regular visits to your doctor are important, even when you feel great. An hour in your doctor’s office can provide a lifetime of peace of mind.