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Earlier always equals better when it comes to diagnostics. Here's just one example: An estimated 22,000 women are stricken with ovarian cancer each year in the United States; more than 90 percent of women with cancer that has not spread beyond the ovary live at least five years after diagnosis; however, fewer than 20 percent of women are diagnosed at this early point. Here's some advice for getting started:
Acknowledge the symptoms. Don't make excuses automatically—don't dismiss pain or discomfort, or assume it's just the result of stress or fatigue. Stress, for example, does affect your immune system and make you more prone to high blood pressure, heart disease, etc., but stress is not the complete answer if you're having chronic insomnia or chronic stomach pain. Tell your physician you're under a lot of pressure and having these difficulties.
As anyone who watches medical dramas knows, "silly"-seeming symptoms—from food suddenly tasting "funny" to the development of a constant flutter in one eye—almost always point to an underlying condition.
There's a reason Eastern medicine uses basic observation as a diagnostic tool: Problems in the digestive or lymphatic system can be seen (if you know what to look for, such as a change in color) simply by sticking out your tongue and looking at it in a mirror. That's also why your dentist can be a great ally in your overall health—dentists are often the first to notice and treat gum disease, which can be a precursor to heart problems. Appetite changes, or feeling full quickly, the loss of taste—any of these symptoms should be marked on your calendar and, especially if they are chronic or intensify, brought to the attention of your doctor.
Note the frequency and where the symptom sits on a pain scale: 1 might equal "a bit annoying" while 10 would be "completely debilitating."
Register if the symptom is getting worse—this could refer to frequency or severity.
Establish baselines for yourself: Make sure you have a sense of your family medical history, male and female sides. Keep a list of all the medications you take—updating it as you add a new medication or stop another. And remember to include herbal supplements, vitamins, minerals, over-the-counter products, and "health" teas in addition to prescriptions.
From the July 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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