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HEALTH CARE BY THE NUMBERS

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Prevention is the number one way to reduce health-care costs. Obviously, if you don't get sick or have an accident, you don't have to pay for medical care.

And while all medical problems are not preventable, a surprising number are, says W. Knox Fitzpatrick, vice president for medical affairs with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Utah.In 1987, his company paid out more than $166 million in claims. He estimates that almost one-fifth could have been prevented.

"Many medical problems can be linked to lifestyle - both things people do, such as smoke, and things they don't do, such as use seatbelts. These lead to increased health costs, not just for the injured person, but for society as a whole through higher insurance rates and higher taxes."

For instance, by following a proper diet, exercising regularly and not smoking, you can drastically reduce - even eliminate - the risks of getting lung cancer, having a heart attack at an early age, developing high blood pressure and other health problems.

Another way to reduce costs is by knowing your medical history. This can be important any time you visit a doctor, but is particularly important in case of an emergency, says Fitzpatrick.

"Things that drive up costs include duplication, tests, waiting for results, measures to tide you over until a diagnosis can be made, wild goose chases that result from trying to track down exact causes, time lost before treatment is made.

"Quality care is less expensive," he says. "And prompt intervention is a big part of quality."

In an emergency situation, questions have to be answered quickly. The time required to diagnose a patient's condition can often make a lifesaving difference. "A delay in treatment can sometimes lead to a chronic or long-lasting disability, and that can add to the cost."

In circumstances where you are unable to directly relay this information, a Medic Alert bracelet or neck chain can tell doctors or paramedicas about your medical status and provide instant access to medical records through a 24-hour emergency phone number engraved on the emblem. (To order one for yourself or as a gift, call 261-2058 locally or 1-800-ID ALERT.)

"Your regular doctor can also be of better service to you when you are aware of any special medical conditions you may have."

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While great strides have been made in

While great strides have been made in the fight against cancer, it is still a leading cause of death in this country. Early detection is the best way to increase the chance of curing cancer. There are also steps to can take to significantly reduce the risks of getting cancer. Here are seven warning signs to be aware of and seven preventive steps you can take:

The 7 warning signs:

1. Change in bowel or bladder habits.

2. A sore that does not heal.

3. Unusual bleeding or discharge.

4. Thickening or lump in breast or elsewhere.

5. Prolonged indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.

6. Obvious change in wart or mole.

7. Nagging cough or hoarseness.

The 7 preventive steps:

1. Don't smoke.

2. Eat high-fiber foods and leafy vegetables.

3. Use alcohol in moderation if at all.

4. Avoid too much direct sunlight and use sunblockers.

5. Don't use chewing tobacco or snuff. It can be just as dangerous as smoking.

6. Avoid exposure to environmental hazards such as radiation, asbestos, pollutants.

7. Use self-examination techniques such as breast exams, note changes in moles or lesions that heal slowly.

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6 ways to help your heart

This year in the United States, nearly one million people will die from heart disease, stroke and related disorders. In Utah, in 1987, 33 percent of all deaths could be attributed to coronary heart disease.

While there are many complex factors involved in heart disease, and researchers are learning more about cause and effect all the time, there are steps you can take to minimize the risks of developing an unhealthy heart.

Here are six ways to be nice to your heart:

1. Maintain a diet that is low in fats and high in complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, grains, pasta and rice. A proper diet, which includes adequate protein and nutrients, will also help keep cholesterol at recommended levels.

2. Don't drink alcohol to excess. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to high blood pressure and elevated blood fats. It may also damage heart muscles and make the heart more susceptible to irregular heartbeats.

3. Have regular physical checkups. It is important to know your current risk factors in order to develop an effective cardiovascular conditioning program.

4. Don't smoke. Even moderate smokers have twice the risk of coronary heart disease and four times the risk of stroke.

5. Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise will build cardiovascular endurance and actually strengthen the heart muscle, as well as reduce stress. It will also help maintain proper cholesterol levels and help control high blood pressure. Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and aerobic dancing should be done a minimum of three times a week for a duration of at least 20 minutes. However, you should consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

6. Don't overeat. Regardless of the types of food you eat, it is important not to consume more than your recommended daily intake of calories.

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12 ways to reduce stress

Utah physicians estimate that 30 percent to 35 percent of all illness they treat is stress-related. The symptoms of stress can be physiological, such as fatigue or headache, or social or intellectual, such as irritability and forgetfulness. Stress can wear you down, making you more susceptible to other kinds of diseases and illnesses.

Stress is a normal result of the events that occur in our lives and cannot be totally avoided. But learning how to reduce the effects of stress can also help you reduce health breakdowns. Take some time to analyze your stress factors and take some positive steps to minimize the stress in your life. Here are 12 ways to relieve the pressure when you feel "stressed out."

1. Take six deep breaths.

2. Visit the Bahamas (or any other peaceful, relaxing imaginary scene) in your mind.

3. Stand up and stretch.

4. Hug someone.

5. Walk to your window and watch the birds.

6. Find a friend who'll listen.

7. Take an exercise break:

- Rotate you head slowly around in a circular motion, or;

- Slowly roll your shoulders forward and backward a couple of times. Recall a pleasant thought, image, memory or feeling for 10 to 15 seconds. Take one more deep, slow breath, exhale slowly and return to your activity.

8. Have a good laugh.

9. Don't take the job too seriously.

10. Pick a task you can easily finish in 10 minutes.

11. Play a game.

12. Change your focus away from work.

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10 things to know about your body

This year, 80 million Americans will make an unscheduled visit to an emergency room. In an emergency situation, there are questions that have to be answered quickly. The time required to diagnose a patient's condition can often make a lifesaving difference.

Although particularly important in an emergency situation, you will be ahead any time you seek medical care if you know some basic things about your body. Here are 12 things you should know (and if possible, have them recorded somewhere so a family member can find them if necessary):

1. Know what illnesses or diseases you have had.

2. Know what medications you are taking - both by brand name and by generic name. Know about drug interaction (how certain drugs affect other drugs you are taking). You can't know interactions of every drug, but be aware of the main ones for drugs you are taking. Some have a additive effect; some cancel the effectiveness of other drugs.

3. Know how your body reacts to specific drugs. Are you allergic to any medications? Do you get drowsy with antihistamines? Do you have any other allergies that might affect medical care?

4. Know the danger signs of illness you may have. If you have diabetes, for example, you should know the signs of insulin reaction.

5. Know your family's medical history. Do hypertension or heart disease run in the family?

6. Know what operations you've had. Have you have your appendix removed? Other scar tissue that might be causing abdominal blockage?

7. Obtain a brief copy of your medical records from your physician. This is particularly a good idea if you are moving or if your physician is retiring.

8. Carry some indication of very important medical conditions - a Medic Alert bracelet or identification card in your wallet.

9. Be sure to carry identification when jogging or cycling - particularly if you are away from your hometown.

10. Know your blood pressure and pulse rate and their meanings. A reading can have a different meaning entirely depending on what is normal for you.