Take control of your health with these tips on preventing common injuries and conditions.

Many diseases strike without warning. Their causes could lie in your family history or something in your genes, which you have no control over. But a surprising number of health problems can actually be avoided with the right preparation and lifestyle changes. Read on to see how everything from certain cancers to acid reflux can be prevented.

Comorbidities of obesity

Obesity is one of the leading causes of disease today. Defined as having a BMI (body mass index, or ratio of weight to height) over 30, obesity puts a lot of stress on your body and thus is connected with a variety of other conditions, or comorbidities. The extra weight takes a toll on your cardiovascular system, so people with obesity are at increased risk for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. In addition, obesity is linked with poor blood sugar control, which leads to type 2 diabetes. Other problems associated with obesity include sleep apnea, a breathing problem during sleep, and even recurrent hernia.

The best strategies to prevent obesity are to eat a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, lean meats and whole grains, and to moderately exercise for at least 20 minutes every day. If you are already obese, weight-loss surgery may be an option if you have a BMI over 40 or a BMI over 35 with at least one comorbid condition.

Call for an Appointment
(800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)

Cancers

The reason why many cancers develop is often unknown, but certain cancers do have preventable causes. You may be thinking of skin cancer, which can be prevented by avoiding too much sun; and lung cancer, which in the majority of cases is caused by smoking. But did you know that esophageal cancer (cancer of the esophagus), larynx cancer as well as other head and neck cancers are also caused by smoking? In addition, these cancers can develop from excessive alcohol use, and when combined with smoking, the risk goes up even further. Although it isn’t known exactly how alcohol leads to cancer, one theory suggests it’s an irritant that may cause cell changes (and make it easier for toxic substances from smoking to get into cells).

The best way to prevent these cancers is to never start smoking; or if you already smoke, to quit. In addition, restrict your alcohol intake to the recommended limit of one drink per day for women and two for men. Most people with alcohol use disorder can benefit from treatment, which will help reduce their risk of these cancers.

Tendinitis and other sports injuries

As with diseases, many sports injuries happen without warning. One twist the wrong way or a bad fall can cause damage to muscles, bones, ligaments and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. But for everyone from elite athletes to “weekend warriors,” overexercise, poor posture or failing to stretch can also lead to injury. For example, tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons often caused by overuse and is common in the shoulders, elbow (“tennis elbow”), wrists, knees or heels. If you have pain, burning, swelling or weak grip strength, contact your doctor. Rest, steroid injections or physical therapy can usually help. Other sports injuries that may occur from overuse are shoulder instability or a torn meniscus.

Repetitive motions when playing sports can lead to injury, so make sure you are using proper technique to prevent damage. Always warm up, and make sure your muscles are strong enough for the activity. Don’t overdo it! If you’ve already had an injury, changing your technique or using different equipment can help avoid another.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a severe form of acid reflux in which stomach contents travel back into the throat, causing tissue injury. In addition to your average heartburn, or burning sensation in your chest, GERD can also cause hoarseness, throat clearing, increased phlegm and coughing. Besides being annoying, GERD can lead to complications if not treated.

Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to prevent acid reflux from developing into GERD and treating GERD if you already have it. Having small, frequent meals instead of large ones can prevent your stomach from backing up. Finding and avoiding your trigger foods, which often include citrus fruit, tomatoes, fried, fatty or spicy foods and garlic or onions, can also help. Cut down on alcohol and coffee. Don’t eat for a few hours before bed, and prop up your bed so you’re not sleeping flat. Talk to your doctor about whether certain medications you may be taking could contribute to GERD. Serious cases may require surgery.

Hemorrhoids

Anyone who’s ever had hemorrhoids knows what a pain in the bottom (literally) they can be. When they become enlarged, often after episodes of straining, they can cause itching, discomfort and rectal bleeding. They may even become big enough to bulge out of the anus.

Although serious cases may require surgery, there are lifestyle changes that can help prevent hemorrhoids. Increased dietary fiber consumption and drinking more water throughout the day can keep bowels moving and reduce the need for straining during bowel movements. In addition, more exercise can help as well. Most importantly, these home remedies also reduce instances of constipation and prolonged sitting on the toilet, which can cause enlarged hemorrhoids to develop or make them worse.

“Not every pain in the bottom is due to hemorrhoids,” says Christine Hsieh, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “It’s worth getting checked if you develop pain, bleeding, itching, or the sensation of a bulge around or protruding from the anus, especially if over the counter remedies have no effect. While hemorrhoids are very common, many other frequently encountered anorectal issues can cause similar symptoms.”

“Most people will feel better if they adhere to a high fiber diet and increase their water intake to prevent constipation and straining,” expresses Dr. Hsieh, who is also a colorectal surgeon at USC Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “Taking a fiber softener or a stool softener can help, too. It is important to be consistent — stop, and symptoms may return.”

By Tina Donvito

If you are concerned about any of these conditions, make an appointment with one of our orthopaedic, otolaryngology or surgical specialists at Keck Medicine of USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.