Look Ma, No Pain: Treating Asymptomatic Patients

hypertension-sphygmomanometerIt’s not hard to convince a patient who is in pain to take his or her medication, but what about the patient who doesn’t feel any symptoms? Adherence is a problem when it comes to asymptomatic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, hyperlipidaemia, or osteoporosis. Patients may think that because they feel fine, they’re not at risk and therefore don’t need medication. Patients may also be unaware of the seriousness of an asymptomatic condition. A recent survey found that 43 percent of female osteoporosis patients underestimate their fracture risk, says WebMD. The survey’s lead researcher believes that inadequate risk assessment on the part of healthcare providers, along with a lack of patient education, is to blame. Other factors in noncompliance may include side effects or cost of medication.

Neglecting a chronic health issue increases a patient’s risk of developing life-threatening complications later on. The osteoporosis sufferer falls and breaks her hip. The patient with untreated high cholesterol has a heart attack. A stroke befalls the patient with high blood pressure. A study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 89,000 hypertension-related deaths per year could be prevented if patients would follow preventive drug regimens. Non-adherence can also lead to higher medical costs. That osteoporosis medicine may be expensive, but it’s cheaper than shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a hip replacement.

Although compliance issues such as treatment cost or side effects may be thorny to deal with, patient education is easier for healthcare providers to control. Patients who have asymptomatic conditions can be educated about the importance of being proactive about their health. A study published last year in the medical journal Current Opinion In Rheumatology found that osteoporosis patients did a poor job of adhering to recommended therapies. The study suggested improving patient education through such techniques as discussing test results and medication benefits.

Here are some healthcare organizations and companies that deal with the prevention and/or treatment of the asymptomatic conditions mentioned above: The National Osteoporosis Foundation, an organization dedicated to osteoporosis and bone health; the American College of Chest Physicians, a society focused on the prevention and treatment of diseases of the chest; SaltCheck, a salt intake monitoring system for patients with high blood pressure or heart disease; Forbes Medi-Tech, a developer of functional food ingredients aimed at lowering cholesterol; and TrestleTree, a “health transformation organization” that provides health behavioral coaching to patients who have chronic conditions or engage in unhealthy habits.

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