I wanted to explore the definition of health, because although this seems like something a kindergarten student would know, its actually not as simple as we seem to think it is. It seems like a lot of people think that being healthy is to have no physical illness or medical condition. However, the World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1). This is how I have begun to see health, and I hope to show you why. I view health as a multi-factorial state. I believe that many things fall under health, such as physical health, emotional and mental well being, social well being, and quality of life. These factors are not independent, rather they are extremely dynamic and can influence each other – which is why they are all extremely important. I think that the health care community can and should always address all aspects of a patient’s health and not just their physical health.
I have personally experienced the complex interactions of my own health. I suffer from moderate-to-severe chronic eczema. I have had it for over 4 years without any “remission”, and it can vary from a small patch on my arm to covering the entire back of my legs, arms and back (about 15-20% of my body). My flares worsen with stress, such as during exam time in college or before medical school interviews. My flares have also made me self conscious for situations where my eczema is fully visible to other people, such as in the summer when it’s too hot to wear long sleeves and pants. Its a tough cycle to control, and I am still trying to figure out all the things that make my eczema better or worse. So far, I found that exercise, a healthy diet, and stress reduction practices really influence (but not totally prevent) my flares.
I love sharing stories about different topics, but I also think it is important to dive into more concrete examples of how different facets of health intersect. One area where this has been shown is in cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that patients with coronary heart disease that are also depressed are more likely to have major cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes (2). It is suggested that this is because depressed patients are less physically active (2). Stress levels and social support in the work place has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (3). And heart attacks have been linked to a significantly lower quality of life even years after they occur (4). Although these are very specific associations that have been found, I think they provide examples supporting how different facets of health influence each other.
In the future, I hope to be able to address all of these subcategories of health for my patients. Although physical health is the main area that physicians focus on, I believe they should be aware of their patient’s emotional, mental and social health as well. I think that this focus on the entire health of a patient could be extremely influential for a lot of different conditions, and particularly chronic conditions.
Hi! My name is Caroline Franke and I am a second year medical student in North East Ohio. I love cooking, running, and playing with dogs and kids. I am on a mission to learn as much as I can about nutrition, mental health, and physical well being. Feel free to join along as I try to navigate the world of wellness.
© Caroline Franke, All Rights Reserved