Can You Predict Any Diseases You Will Have?
The earlier a disease is diagnosed, the better the prognosis. Doctors have more options for treating illnesses that are caught in the early stages. Breast cancer, for example, has a 90% survival rate when detected in Stage 1. The difference in patient outcomes is so significant that doctors recommend regular screening for any diseases known to run in a patient’s family.
What about other conditions, though? Is it possible to predict disease in general without testing for each one individually? There is some interesting research underway by doctors hoping to find a way to forecast health issues even before symptoms appear. Here are a few ideas under review:
Getting blood drawn is a routine part of annual physicals. What if doctors could learn more from the same tests?
Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City are working on that challenge. They created a long-term health assessment based on data from two common tests: a comprehensive metabolic panel and a complete blood count. In trials their assessment has been 77% effective in predicting diseases like diabetes, kidney failure, coronary artery disease, and dementia.
The test isn’t perfect, of course. It can only reliably predict the onset of disease within three years. Also, because there wasn’t much diversity in the study group the profile doesn’t apply well for those living outside Utah.
Artificial intelligence sounds like science fiction, but some forms of it are in use every day. Many hospitals use computer programs to streamline their patient care. Now, researchers at Boston University’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering are trying to use a similar program to forecast disease.
The program considers a patient’s entire health record: past illnesses, family history, vaccinations, and more. So far it’s achieved impressive results in predicting heart disease and diabetes. The program shows an early accuracy rating of 82% versus 56% using traditional risk assessment methods.
The system has some flaws that hold it back from general use. First, it relies on data gathered from patients. If the information is wrong, the program turns out bad profiles.
There are privacy issues to consider, too. Industry analysts warn that a system of “predictive health profiles” would lead to arguments over what government agencies or corporations have access to the information. Additionally, a bad profile could hurt employment or health insurance prospects.
Genetic testing is very cool at the moment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved the first at-home test for predisposition to 10 different diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. The idea is that certain genes make it more likely that a patient will develop a specific disease. Armed with that knowledge, people can work with their doctors to watch for warning signs.
The National Institute of Health is skeptical, however. They released a public advisory that it’s unlikely the at-home test will be an effective diagnostic tool. Scientists can’t even always reach consensus about as to which DNA differences are relevant to which diseases, so genetic testing is only viable for well-understood conditions like Celiac disease.
Planning for the future
The truth is, no single method of predicting disease is ever likely to be 100% accurate. The best way to look after your health is to focus on things you can change now: eating well, getting regular check-ups, taking lifestyle-appropriate supplements, and staying fit. Keeping yourself in the best condition will prepare you to meet anything life throws your way.
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