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Were you sleeping through your anatomy class? Time to wake up

A basic level of health literacy is the responsibility of each of us, and we all need to step up, say experts

Mary AchkhanianStaff Reporter
13:11 March 11, 2018

Dubai: Snoozing through the anatomy class in school could well have been, or is, the pastime of many.

While it is understandable that many of us are unable to tell the difference between adenoids and amygdala (adenoids are a patch of tissue high up in the throat, just behind the nose.

They, along with the tonsils, are part of the lymphatic system. The amygdala is an almond-shaped section of nervous tissue located in the temporal side of the brain), what is not good, say experts, is to not know the difference between the thyroid and thighs.

Knowing the important vital anatomical organs, their locations, functions and malfunction can often make the difference between well-being and the expensive hunt for it.

Dr Vani Krishna Warrier (left), Specialist Internal Medicine at Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, and Dr Yasmine Maher, Medical Director and Head of Department, Radiology, Medeor 24/7 Al Ain, tell us why ignorance of the most critical asset in life — our body — can be a dreadful thing that can take us down some perilous paths.

■ Why is knowing about the basic human anatomy so important for each one of us?
Dr Vani Krishna: We all learn anatomy from a very early age, right from when babies are taught the names of various body parts. Every-one learns basic anatomy in school. Sadly, many of these lessons are forgotten in adulthood. A basic level of health literacy can be immensely helpful.

Such knowledge also helps the patient to communicate their specific sources of discomfort to the doctors, helping the doctor arrive at a more accurate diagnosis faster.

Dr Yasmine Maher (left): Understanding the parts of the human body can promote your own personal health as well as those of your family members.

You don’t need to know the exact scientific name for all human body structures, yet by understanding basic anatomy, you can appreciate the impact of lifestyle and nutrition on your health and thus prevent and/or facilitate early detection of certain diseases.

■ What’s the price to pay for poor anatomy knowledge?
Dr Vani Krishna: A common instance is when people experience pain in the chest. Often, such a pain is dismissed as gas trouble and ignored. If it isn’t severe enough, people will often make do with home remedies.

This can be dangerous, because such pain could be indicative of something as sinister as a heart attack. Many valuable lives have been lost prematurely, solely because of a lack of this basic knowledge.

Take another common example: pain on the right side of the lower abdomen. This could be the result of a number of causes. The more serious ones are usually appendicitis or ureteric colic.

Dismissing such pain as indigestion and delaying treatment could result in serious complications, such as a burst appendix.

■ Should we all become experts then?
Dr Vani Krishna: An individual who is not medically trained cannot be termed a health care expert. A person definitely needs to be well-informed about his/her body in order to know how the body functions.

The UK study conducted recently [revealed] that most of the participants were unaware of the locations of most internal organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys etc.

An in-depth knowledge of most of these organs isn’t necessary in daily life, but it is vital to know where the important organs are located, and what one experiences when they are malfunctioning.

While knowing the difference between your adrenals and spleen [can be useful information], knowing the difference between a pain in the stomach and a pain in the appendix, or gallbladder, could be a potential lifesaver.

Dr Maher: You don’t have to be an expert, just understand the basic names, the general locations and functions of your body organs and the symptoms that might necessitate urgent professional medical care.

Differentiating between your spleen and your adrenals isn’t of much significance but not knowing that your kidneys lie in the groin region is.

■ Should people educate themselves? Especially at the click of a mouse?
Dr Vani Krishna: In this Information Age, people have easy access to many authentic sources on the internet, some of which even provide 3-dimensional images of various body parts and organs.

We should all try to possess at least a basic knowledge of how the major internal organs work, where they are situated, and what we will experience when something goes wrong.

Dr Maher: Self-education using online resources can be very informative to all people.

Some websites offer a tour of the human body explaining what each organ is and its functions.

The US National institutes of Health offers a range of resources about the different parts of the body.

■ How do well-informed patients help doctors?
Dr Vani Krishna: The first responders in any emergency usually tend to be the bystanders in the area.

A basic idea of anatomy will help them aid the victim without further jeopardising the situation through inadvertent mishandling.

For instance, managing a wound by stopping the excess flow of blood can be helpful in saving a patient’s life.

More-over, if an individual is well-informed about a particular condition, he would be better able to accurately explain his situation to the doctor which in turn helps in effective treatment and management.

Dr Maher: It makes it easier for the health care professionals to explain about the disease, its causes, symptoms, suggested management and lifestyle modifications.

■ How do self-informed ‘experts’ hinder doctors’ efforts?
Dr Vani Krishna: Like two sides of a coin, information abundance is a boon and a bane. Too much easy knowledge without the accompanying training can be a double-edged sword, especially in the medical field.

One must never attempt to self-diagnose by looking up one’s symptoms on the internet. Not only will this “diagnosis” usually be wildly inaccurate, it will also cause unnecessary mental stress to the patient, further compounding the existing problem. Always remember: when in doubt, speak to your doctor.

Dr Maher: Too much internet searching or reading can sometimes create a state of debate between the patients.

Know your body

At the heart of ignorance
Being unable to identify the location of the human heart in the body is an indication of poor health literacy and this is a matter of concern. The heart, kidney, lungs etc are major organs involved in daily functioning and knowing about them is crucial in order to be able to identify right from wrong.

Many of the health conditions relating to the heart present unusual symptoms; knowing about the organ and its functioning will help understand the different manifestations making, it easier to understand if there is a health concern.

Health is in the details and here’s why
When a person uses the gym, a basic awareness of the various muscles and joints will help in the correct usage of exercise machines. This not only helps avoid injuries, but also helps increase the effectiveness of your workout.

In sports, trauma is a common occurrence.

The ability to distinguish a tendon or ligament injury from a fracture can help administering the correct form of first aid.

Chronic aches in the back, neck, shoulders etc are often related to bad posture resulting from a lack of awareness of the musculoskeletal structures.

Learning about the correct postures, the effect these have on various muscles and joints, and adopting them will go a long way towards ensuring our joints last well into old age.

‘Knowledge can save your life.’ Is this an exaggerated claim?
Basic first aid measures, if taken in case of an emergency, can surely save a life. This does not mean that one can perform life-saving measures without any training or just with information from the internet. Even if you are well read about health information, ensure to get it confirmed by a doctor.

— Dr Vani Krishna Warrier