“Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding…” ― Brian Greene
“You doctors of these days!” sighed my friend’s father after he spent a long day at the hospital for his master health check-up, “You people do so many tests for God knows what ….earlier the doctors would know everything just by looking at a patient….. ”I was indignant but managed to keep quiet. Many years ago I read this line in a book-“perhaps to be great is to be misunderstood” and I tell this to myself when a volley of accusations are thrown at me without giving me a chance to explain.
I am not denying the fact that medical care is an enterprise but I want to explain some reasons why we do more tests today than several years before, especially for children.
First and foremost, we know more about diseases than we did before. Two we can treat more diseases now than we could before. Our knowledge of genetics has revolutionised therapy and we have been able to synthesize components that our bodies lack. Stem cell banking and organ transplants offer incredible prospects for survival. So many causes of sudden, early and unexplained ill health are decoded now—many conditions like seizures, skin problems and digestive disorders. It is possible now on the day of a baby’s birth to screen him for several inherited conditions that have remedies in the form of diet, lifestyle changes or medications and thereby permit normal brain and body growth.
Another revolutionary aspect in medicine is in the field of imaging. We now have what is called “functional imaging” where we are able to monitor how an organ does its work and which part of it is inactive or diseased. These tests have led us to understand disease differently and we have been more radical in our treatment these days.
Laboratory tests have also become more and more standardised. For instance bacteria like mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis were usually hard to detect till recent times and many of us have been treated for a probable possibility in our childhood, termed the primary complex. Today treatment is standardised and categorised because of better diagnostic means.
Over the past few decades, it has been recognized that the risk of adult health disorders, particularly diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease (known as metabolic syndrome)can be markedly influenced by prenatal and infant environmental exposures (otherwise known as developmental programming). Low birth weight, together with infant catch-up growth, is associated with a significant risk of adult obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as adverse effects on lung, kidney, and brain functions. So from time to time it is now possible to evaluate the risk for getting these conditions using screening tests.