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Early warning of problem can spur healthy changes

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

During this decade, the word "wellness" has become an umbrella term to mean the focus on spiritual, physical and mental health and the cessation of habits that interfere with the process, according to Miriam Clark, director of the HealthSense program at Cox Health Systems.

HealthSense provides low-cost corporate screening programs to companies based on the demographics of their employees, which can include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and cancer screenings. It also provide information on risk factors and behavior modification.

Health screenings have definitely found people at risk for certain diseases and helped them respond in the early stages, according to Mike Peters, director of community relations at St. John's.

St. John's offers health risk appraisals, along with periodic screenings for prostate and colon cancer, mammograms and blood work-ups, to name a few. Some tests are free, others may require a nominal fee to cover the paperwork.

"It's a lot of work, but if we can save the life of one person, it is worth it," Peters said.

Cox HealthSense periodically offers blood pressure and cholesterol tests to the public, and a community cancer screening program for skin cancer, prostate and oral cancer. Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in America, an estimated 4 percent of tobacco users are at risk for oral cancer, Clark said.

She added that prostate cancer, a disease which has always been on the back burner, has come to the forefront as the leading disease diagnosed in American men.

Cardiovascular disease is still the No. 1 killer in the United States, but it is also one of the most preventable. Risk factors such as sedentary living, high blood pressure or cholesterol, and smoking are principal factors in heart disease, and these problems can be minimized through behavior modification, another '90s catch-phrase, Clark said.

Information about exercise, changes in diet and adjustments to daily habits can lower risk, and screenings can help alert people to their risk factors, Clark said.

Both Cox and St. John's offer a wide variety of awareness programs and screenings at various times, often in conjunction with national health events, such as National Heart Month in February and April's Cancer Awareness Month.

St. John's will offer screenings related to National Men's Health Month in June, including prostate screening and health risk assessments. The focus of Cox's screenings in May will be arthritis and osteoporosis.

But health systems are not the only places to access health information or screening services. In May, the South Side Senior Center will also be offering a program focused on osteoporosis, according center director Coleen Cornelison.

The senior center has offered blood pressure and blood sugar tests for more than 15 years, Cornelison said. The South Side Center has offered the program each Tuesday morning for the past two years.

The service, available to anyone over 60, has been very successful in helping people control their health and, in some cases, preventing conditions from becoming major, Cornelison said.

About 40 to 45 people per week use the service. There are people who have been alerted to a problem, but many who use the program already know they are at risk, she said.

The center initiates a number of other programs such as seminars on nutrition and prescriptions, where participants can ask questions of the experts.

The Community Blood Center offers blood pressure checks on a drop-in basis, and the center worked with the American Diabetes Association in March to perform blood sugar tests, with Roche Diagnostics providing the materials, according to Jeff Champion, director of public relations for the center.

"We are glad to do a blood pressure check," Champion said, "And when you donate, you get a mini-physical, including cholesterol, vital signs and iron level."

Of the 525 donors tested in March, four people tested positive for diabetes and were able to follow up with more information and treatment.

The American Diabetes Association did screenings at 10 locations during the month of March, according to Renee Steele Paulsell, executive director for this area.

Paulsell said 16 million Americans have diabetes and about one-third of them do not know it. "We hear so much about HIV and breast cancer, but people don't look at diabetes as a serious disease," she said.

The association can help people identify risk factors and show them ways to modify their lifestyles, which in some cases can prevent or control the disease, Paulsell added.

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