14 Costly Health Problems and How to Catch Them Early
A daunting medical diagnosis is bad enough, but the prospect of massive medical costs can also devastate family morale. Even with insurance, a high deductible and coinsurance can add up quickly. In some cases, early detection can help prevent both disease progression and high medical expenses. Here are some early warning signs and symptoms of 14 serious health conditions.
Chronic kidney disease affects 26 million Americans, and the average cost of treating each patient can rise to more than $70,000 a year, according to figures cited by the National Kidney Foundation. Kidney problems often defy detection until they're life-threatening. It's essential to know the uncommon early warning signs: lower back pain, a metallic taste in the mouth, swelling in the ankles, dizziness, skin itching and rashes, feeling cold, and leg pain. Of course, changes in urination can also signal kidney problems including infection, chronic kidney disease, and kidney stones.
Hoarse coughing, difficulty swallowing, a bitter taste in the mouth, pain when lying down after eating, an excess of saliva -- these seemingly isolated symptoms, when considered together, may strongly imply acid reflux, in which stomach acids move into the esophagus. The burning in the chest is painful enough to be mistaken for a heart attack and should not be ignored or dismissed as run-of-the-mill heartburn. A government study showed 3.1 million hospitalizations in 2005, costing more than $6,500 on average (about $8,000 today, adjusted for inflation). Some sufferers can get away with over-the-counter medications; those who need more help -- likely after a doctor's upgraded diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease -- are looking at prescription medications costing anywhere from $142 to $414 a month (or less for generics), according to wholesale prices gathered a few years ago by a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services agency.
Studies indicate that the lifetime cost of treating the human immunodeficiency virus can top $400,000, but early action after exposure and infection can radically lengthen a patient's life and result in an almost symptom-free existence for years. Early treatment typically involves antiretroviral therapy with drugs covered by insurance, which can keep people with HIV out of hospital treatment and delay the onset of AIDS. It's best to get tested immediately after potential exposure to HIV via sexual contact or needle sharing. Symptoms showing up two to four weeks afterward could easily be shrugged off as a less serious ailment such as the flu: fever, fatigue, sore throat, rash, joint aches, swollen glands, and headache.
Lung cancer claims more lives each year in the U.S. than any other type of cancer, with treatment surpassing $60,000 in the first year alone, according to the National Cancer Institute. Screening those at high risk and detecting lung cancer early can aid in patient recovery. In addition to coughing, look out for clubbed fingertips (painful, bulging fingernails and arthritis-like pain that makes motor skills difficult); constant cold or flu symptoms; mood swings; breast growth in men; unexpected weight loss; and pain in the abdomen, shoulder, back, or chest.
Each cancer has its own specific symptoms, but there are general symptoms that warrant a medical exam -- especially when experienced together. These include weight loss, fever, fatigue, pain (although this is often a sign that the cancer has already spread), and changes to the skin, whether it becomes darker, yellowish, red, or itchy. Another alarm bell: excessive hair growth in unexpected places. Letting warning signs go can result in massive medical bills for aggressive treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, medication alone can cost $24,000 to $36,000 a year out of pocket on top of insurance premiums, according to U.S. News & World Report, which cites numbers from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
No surprise here, but it's by no means cheap to treat a brain tumor. Radiation treatment for nonmalignant cases runs in the tens of thousands of dollars, while treating a complicated malignant tumor can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Catching a brain tumor early can improve a patient's prognosis. In addition to headaches and possible seizures, early signs and symptoms include changes in smell, vision, or hearing; unexplained weakness in limbs or on one side of the body; and inexplicable changes in personality or likes and dislikes. Depending on the type of tumor, the person might be unable to look up or might see growth in their hands and feet. Women might begin lactating with no warning or experience a change in their menstrual cycle.