Take responsibility for health from a young age

As a general medical practitioner, I was glad to hear Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day message, addressing the problem of diabetes and its complications, and highlighting the need for a healthy lifestyle (3 issues Singapore needs to tackle to thrive in the future: PM Lee, Aug 9; and Spirit of S'pore is to look to the future, Aug 9).

He also pointed out that Singaporeans are living longer, but the last eight years of life are plagued with ill-health.

Preventive medicine, taking responsibility for our own health and fostering a healthy lifestyle are surely also the concerns of doctors locally and internationally.

Obesity is now recognised as a disease entity, leading to metabolic syndrome, fatty liver and a host of chronic illnesses. Besides diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidaemia also contribute to coronary problems, strokes and kidney failure.

What is alarming is that more younger patients are suffering from heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. In the last couple of years of my medical practice, I have encountered patients as young as 35 years old suffering a heart attack and needing several stent insertions to keep their heart blood vessels open.

Many patients in their late 30s are not keen to go for medical screening for various reasons, and they may even feel that they are generally healthy - until a medical crisis strikes.

Medical practitioners are seeing more patients complaining of neck ache, shoulder pain and back pain.

This is not surprising when many spend an average of eight hours a day at computers at work, and more hours monitoring mobile phones after work.

With the advent of IT and the ease of surfing the Internet, a host of new medical issues has emerged.

Among them is the exposure to disinformation on the Internet and the purchase of questionable "medication" through the Internet.

Disinformation (truth with distortion or fake information) regarding the use of statins, for instance, to lower cholesterol level, has led to many refraining from taking their statin medications.

Coupled with the many hours on the computer and at work, individuals are sleeping less, some averaging five hours a night.

Yet these same individuals embark on weekend exercises even when they are not in the right state to do so.

We then see a number collapsing after vigorous exercise, when what they need is more rest.

Exercise, to be effective, has to be undertaken four to five times a week and not once a week or once occasionally.

The concern is that the future scenario may not be just eight years of ill-health in older folks but more younger individuals with chronic medical problems and spending many years of their lives incapacitated in one way or another.

I have not even mentioned the problem of patients suffering from depression and burnout. Doctors are also seeing more people suffering from these conditions.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Take responsibility for health from a young age'. Subscribe