Gina Vaynshteyn
May 19, 2013 6:00 am

According to UCLA Health, around 1 in 5 Americans have an allergy. The epic increase of individuals who have developed Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance is a huge issue that warrants its own article. More and more restaurants are trying to cater to these afflictions; a lot of places will label their menu items “GF” for gluten-free, or “V” for vegan; some have lighter options for people watching their calorie, salt and fat intake. But no matter what we do, there are still important health issues that Americans don’t take seriously. And by that, I mean, we either think we are impenetrable, or we mislabel. There are some afflictions we just laugh off and joke about, but the realities are definitely there, and the effects aren’t fun. So let’s start off with:

1. Allergies

The obvious affliction that prevents some of us from enjoying dairy, gluten, poultry products, shellfish, spices and just about a thousand other food items. When I waitressed in college, I would witness a lot of servers ignoring customer’s “crazy” requests to have certain foods removed from their plates and a lot of them justified this with, “They’re just picky eaters.” Since a food allergy can cause anything from swelling and projectile vomiting to something as serious as death, it’s best to tread carefully when it comes to people’s food and not mess around. A few days ago, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant was fined $12,000 because they served a woman regular pasta when she ordered it gluten-free. The customer had Celiac Disease, and was immediately violently ill. Furthermore, this woman was on a transplant waiting list for a heart and lung and had to be temporarily removed because she was so sick after eating the pasta.

 2. Erectile Dysfunction

We all giggle about guys who can’t get a boner, but this is actually a serious condition for men, and doesn’t just affect old guys. The root cause of erectile dysfunction can vary from being way too drunk (okay, we can laugh when this happens) to chronic illnesses and medication (not so funny). The solution is Viagra (sildenafil), which isn’t just some happy penis pill that guarantees mind-blowing sex, since it can cause some major problems too, like: sudden vision loss, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, a penis erection that lasts longer than 4 hours and memory loss.

 3. Insomnia

There are three different types of insomnia: transient, acute and chronic. Transient insomnia lasts less than a week and can be caused by almost anything (environment, depression, stress, etc). Acute insomnia lasts for about a month, and stress is usually the culprit here. Chronic insomnia can last months, years even. It’s usually caused by another underlying disorder, like PTSD or depression. If you’ve been experiencing chronic insomnia, you might be experiencing muscular and mental fatigue and hallucinations. Insomnia is super serious, because it affects your quality of life. People take sleeping pills in order to conquer their sleeplessness, but this can cause major addiction issues (as well as wonky night behavior, like sleep-walking). On the other hand, you have people saying, “Oh yeah, I have insomnia” when they go to bed around 3 and wake up around noon. That isn’t insomnia. That’s just a weird sleeping schedule I call “college”.

4. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a much debated affliction amongst doctors. Since there isn’t exactly any evidence or proof that patients experience pain, a lot of people have dismissed this illness altogether. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by musculoskeletal pain all over the body that usually makes people tired and moody. Sometimes these pains start to occur after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or psychological stress. Other times, there is no single triggering event. However, it’s a condition that shouldn’t be tossed because of its mysterious behavior. Many people have experienced symptoms of Fibromyalgia and can find no relief; since there is no cure, patients usually take pain killers, exercise or sometimes even visit a chiropractor.

5. Skin Cancer

Living in California, I see so many people not wearing sunscreen. I have relatives who are proud of their sun-kissed tan skin; they tell me it takes them months to obtain it! Furthermore…people treat skin cancer like it’s not actually CANCER cancer; as though a doctor can remove your sketchy spot in a few minutes with kid scissors and a Band-aid and then you’re free to go bask in the sun again. It doesn’t work that way; cancerous cells don’t just stay in one place. They move. Cancer spreads and becomes so much harder to treat. People die of skin cancer every single year.

 6. Obesity

I think America has started to take obesity more seriously, but in my opinion, not seriously enough.  I’m a Michael Pollan/food documentary junkie, so when I learn about all the preservatives and GMOs that are going into food to make them “affordable”, I get a little crazy. And then sad. Because as much as our country is waging a war on unhealthy foods, big corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are winning. Obesity is the number one killer in our country. Rather, heart disease is, which is (in most cases) caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. 30% of Americans are dying due to heart failure. Next is cancer, and strokes – which, too, can be attributed to sh*tty food that we are putting in our bodies. According to the CDC, one in three adults is obese in the US. That’s really, really sad. I’d like to believe people are taking this seriously, but then why are numbers still going up?

7.  Stress/Anxiety

Sure, a little bit of stress is a good thing, right? The adrenaline and cortisol gets us going on those deadlines, ideas and projects. It means we’re being productive and hard-working. But what happens when you’re ALWAYS stressed? A lot. Stress can kill, and this is not emphasized nearly as much as it should. About 18% of adults suffer from anxiety disorders and prescriptions for Xanax and Valium (for example) have risen remarkably over the past decade. Strokes, heart-attacks and ulcers are a few affects from un-treated stress.

8. PTSD

PTSD is severe anxiety over something traumatic that happened in the past. Individuals who have PTSD are constantly experiencing intense fear, helplessness or horror. The major problem with PTSD is that it doesn’t get diagnosed, or isn’t treated properly. Many people suffer without counseling or therapy, and this could eventually lead to suicidal thoughts.

9. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, “I am so OCD” when they are referring to their clean room. Although I wasn’t sure how necessary it was to the plot, Lena Dunham’s depiction of OCD was pretty realistic in this last season of GIRLS and favored real-life symptoms of the disorder. OCD is another anxiety disorder that is characterized by the need for ultimate control; people will wash their hands every hour, hoard, repeatedly check on things, have an extreme aversion or attraction to a particular number, and have the need for rituals.  OCD is actually a serious thing and shouldn’t go untreated, nor should people mislabel themselves as “OCD” when they might not actually be.

10. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (which is also known as manic-depressive disorder) is a mood disorder. People with this illness alternate between manic and depressed states of mind. For instance, a person with bipolar disorder will be bouncing off walls for several weeks, redecorating their house, staying up until three in the morning  calling friends and taking drastic measures, such as literally running away from their problems. This can last for several months. Just as suddenly, this person can suddenly start experiencing depression. They will refuse to leave the house; they stop showing up to work. This is another term that people mislabel; if you’re moody or happy in the morning but angry in the afternoon, you probably don’t have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is super serious, and although there are drugs that help ease the shifts in moods, a lot of people hate taking them because the medication strips them of their personalities. The late David Foster Wallace suffered from bipolar disorder, and after battling with it throughout his entire life, he eventually committed suicide.

It’s important to take these issues seriously, even if society or culture doesn’t deem them critical enough. Our health is so, so imperative, and it’s unfortunate when people devalue or look down upon real problems that affect so many every day. You only have one body and mind; don’t let anyone disrespect it or not take it seriously.

Featured image via ShutterStock 

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