I'm not one to knock the medical or pharmaceutical industry just for the sake of knocking them down. They do a lot of good for a lot of people. I've had more good experiences than bad with the medical profession.
But medicine is not about statistics, it's about individuals. And when the doctors, pharmaceutical companies and health care plans forget that, people die.
Take for example high blood pressure. Affects more men than women. No symptoms or immediate problems. But if not controlled, can lead to heart attacks or strokes, which are very bad indeed. So your doctor will encourage you to take one or several of 4 or 5 blood pressure and related medicines. And you will have to come in every 3-6 months for blood work.
Why is the blood work needed? Because of the side effects of the blood pressure medicine. Here is just one example of a man who had both common and most uncommon side effects.Medication was accupril. Less serious side effects listed are:
- muscle pain
- mild skin itching or rash.
However, one man had some uncommon reactions. Over the years his blood work showed a severe potassium deficiency had developed. And potassium defiency can affect your body's fluid balance, proper function of your nerves and cellular enzymes. Was this related also to increasingly severe asthma? The doctor didn't think so. But over 10 years this man went from a normal, healthy, hard worker to someone so sick with asthma he could no longer hold down a job. He would get a cold in early November and be sick with either cold, flu or asthma till the end of February. He progressed from Albuterol to Advair, a corticosteroid and still barely had the asthma under control. Finally, in desperation, he stopped all medications gradually over a few months. Before he stopped, he started taking his own blood pressure each day. He found that 20 minutes of exercise each and every day made a huge difference in his blood pressure. But because he had been so sick for so long, he could not exercise regularly. So he was in a vicious circle of decline.
But once he weaned himself off the medications, he had the healthiest winter he'd had in 10 years. His health continued to improve as he stayed off the medication and continued to exercise. Even losing 50 pounds over the previous 3 years had not made as much difference to his health as stopping his blood pressure medication.
My point is that individual variability is still much, much greater than statistical significance. And medical informatics, or statistical medicine, can't replace the personal knowledge and wisdom of the experienced physician. Or of the informed, active patient.