“People are being kept alive with medical breakthroughs but can have a poor quality of life with chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, kidney failure and other problems,” says Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical consultant to Patient.co.uk.
Dr Jarvis has been a GP for 23 years, with a practice in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. She is passionate about educating the public about health through radio, television, magazines and books.
“Ironically, we are victims of our own success,” she says. “Medical innovations are keeping people alive. Death rates from heart disease have more than halved in the UK in the last 20 years. Consequently people are living longer with conditions we can’t cure.
“No matter what condition you’ve got, the management of that condition is down to you. You will only have a few hours every year with a medical professional; the rest of the time requires self-management. People have to be engaged in their own care.
“No matter what condition you’ve got, the management of that condition is down to you… People have to be engaged in their own care”
“But prevention is so much better than cure and GP’s have now doubled their role. Once we saw people who were ill and we sorted them out. But these days we also do health promotion and disease prevention.
“Obesity is the biggest cause of health problems. It has escalated in the last eight years and 90 per cent of people who get Type 2 diabetes are obese. The rise in cancer is linked to obesity and alcohol and every unit of alcohol you drink a day increases your risk of cancer by 7 to 11 per cent.” Obesity impacts fertility, according to Dr Jarvis. “The more overweight you are, the more trouble you will have conceiving. And women are trying to get pregnant much later. We may believe we are independent and equal but when it comes to fertility we are not.”
If you are too young, you are more likely to have problems with pregnancy, both medical and psychological, or if you are too old, you can have difficulty conceiving. Fertility starts to drop quite steeply from the age of 35. Women cannot assume that pregnancy will happen after the age of 35. Then there are urinary incontinence issues, which affect as many as 1 in 3 women after childbirth — and 40 per cent of women going through the menopause.
“Menopause has become a problem in last 10 years because studies such as the Million Women Study and the Women’s Health Initiative have suggested that HRT may do more harm than good.” She adds: “Women are at greater risk of depression because our brain hemispheres are more connected which allows women to multi-task and not switch off. And, whether it’s nature or upbringing and society or a combination, women tend to be nurturers and worry about everyone else and neglect themselves.”
Dr Jarvis has advice for women of all ages. “It’s not rocket science. All the common sense messages apply. They may be dull but they are true; eat a healthy, balanced diet, don’t eat more calories than you expend, don’t drink alcohol to excess and be free not to drink alcohol at all if you don’t want to. Use reliable contraception, exercise regularly and be nice to yourself!
“It can seem daunting, but working out where you’re doing well and how you can target areas for improvement can make all the difference.
Using a web tool like the Patient.co.uk ‘my health tool’ can help you introduce changes that could make all the difference to your long term quality of life.”