Due to hectic lifestyles and unhealthy eating patterns, many Hong Kong people suffer from minor ailments which cause symptoms such as heartburn, dull abdominal ache and menstrual irregularities. To manage these problems, many sufferers would buy over-the-counter medications from drug stores. While the symptoms can be temporarily relieved, they may turn into long-term health problems with dire consequences if people ignore the ultimate reason behind them.
To put it simply, symptoms are signals to the body that something inside is wrong. If we do not treat them seriously, the underlying disease may worsen without us knowing it. As a result, it may generate huge medical expenditure as illustrated by the two examples below.
Menstrual irregularities and Endometriosis
Ladies often regard period pain and menstrual irregularities as a normal part of their menstrual cycle and think that painkillers would cure the problem without giving too much second thought. However, these symptoms are common in early Endometriosis. It is a condition where the tissue that generates menstrual blood grows outside of the womb, instead of remaining inside of it. Since the menstrual blood cannot pass out of the body through the womb, it aggregates inside to cause cramps.
Many patients are not diagnosed until they have a check-up with a gynaecologist to find out the old menstrual blood collected inside the body has already formed a cyst. Because old blood is dark brown in color, the lesion is called a “chocolate cyst”, which often requires surgical removal.
In more severe cases, these tissues may migrate into the gut, and the sufferer will pass blood in the form of black stool every month. In such conditions, doctors may have to do surgery to remove part of the gut in order to stop the bleeding. Furthermore, menstruation irregularities caused by endometriosis may also lead to menorrhagia – meaning excessive menstruation – which will eventually lead to anemia. The surgical treatment of endometriosis may cost up to HKD 100,000 to 150,000, not taking into the account the amount spent on follow-up care.
Heartburn and Barrett’s esophagus
As you would expect, long-term health problems occur not only in women, but men as well. Barrett’s esophagus is another example where minor ailments may end up as serious illnesses. Hong Kong people who have an irregular eating schedule or indulge in too much good food can easily suffer from heartburn. Having too much greasy food, coffee or alcohol, or exercising immediately after eating can make things worse.
When suffering from heartburn, many people would relieve the discomfort with antacids, thinking that the symptoms are mild. However, the issue can be more serious if the heartburn becomes recurrent and persistent, as this represents the esophagus – the tube connecting the mouth and the stomach – is continually being irritated by stomach acid, which may eventually lead to the formation of Barrett’s esophagus.
In fact, many people only realised the seriousness of the problem when they could no longer tolerate the heartburn and consulted a specialist with an endoscopy done to detect Barrett’s esophagus. In some cases, there may even be ulcers or even stricture formed, leading to swallowing difficulties and a sensation of food getting stuck inside the chest. At this point, many patients do not find eating enjoyable anymore. For severe cases, surgery is needed to rectify the problem. Even worse, Barrett’s esophagus may develop into esophageal cancer. As such, treatments will become more complicated, with the cost being as high as HKD 300,000 to 500,000.
Regular health check to prevent minor ailments from turning into big problems
To sum up, minor ailments may not necessarily mean minor problems. We should pay extra attention, not because of what they are today but because of what they could become. Nowadays, there are medical insurance products that can provide nearly 100% coverage, reimbursing all medical necessary expenses such as the treatment costs described for the two diseases mentioned above. This will give you a peace of mind without having to worry about expensive medical bills that one cannot afford.
And more importantly, we should perform regular annual health check to screen for underlying health issues, so that we can seek medical treatment before the condition becomes too serious.
The above content is reviewed by Dr Alexander Chiu - Chief Medical Officer of AXA Hong Kong and Macau
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