Environmental medicine

background

Environmental medicine is an approach of preventing and treating disease using methods that most people would not see in a routine doctor's visit. This approach links medical problems and diseases to environmental factors. These factors include chemical, physical, and biological influences on the place where a patient works, lives, and plays. Environmental medicine is known as a multidisciplinary field of medicine. It combines environmental science, chemistry, urban planning, ecology, and medicine.
The key idea behind environmental medicine is that long-term exposure to mildly irritating substances (such as common household fungi) or other factors (such as noise) may trigger a variety of physical, mental, and emotional disorders. These mildly irritating substances are known as stressors. Chronic exposure to stressors may result in long-lasting symptoms and even disease.
Environmental medicine has increased in popularity since the environmentalism movement became popular in the United States during the 1970s. Most notably, Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring," was famous for bringing public attention to the influence that pesticides had on the health of birds. People began to realize that the chemicals in their environments may also negatively impact the health of humans.
Advocates link environmental factors, such as chemical sensitivities, developmental delays, and some forms of cancer, to contaminants that infiltrate the patient's body. Environmental medicine claims that stressors may play a role in the development of obesity and cancer in some patients. Environmental medicine sometimes connects exposure to contaminants to the development of diseases of the following body systems: Cardiovascular system problems such as migraine headaches, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rate), vasculitis (inflammation of vessels), thrombophlebitis (inflammation of veins), hypertension (high blood pressure), angina (chest pain), myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), edema and fluid retention syndromes (swelling); skin problems such as eczema, urticaria, angioedema, scleroderma, and dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin eruption); endocrine problems such as thyroid dysfunction, premenstrual syndrome, and fibrocystic breast disease; gastrointestinal problems such as aphthous stomatitis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, infantile enterocolitis, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, regional ileitis, ulcerative colitis, certain malabsorption syndromes, gut flora dysbiosis, and laryngeal edema; genitourinary problems including glomerulonephritis, nephrotic syndrome, chronic cystitis, recurrent vaginitis, enuresis, dysmenorrhea, infertility, and vulvodynia; hematologic problems such as certain types of anemia, and thrombocytopenia; musculoskeletal problems such as lupus erythematosus (chronic autoimmune disease), scleroderma, myalgia and arthralgia, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthritic conditions; neurological and central nervous system problems such as fatigue, certain seizure disorders, sleep disorders, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and various cognitive and memory disorders; eye and ear disorders such as conjunctivitis, eczema of the eyelids, blurring of vision, photophobia, Meniere's disease, recurrent otitis media, vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus, and pressure in the ear; breathing disorders such as asthma, certain pneumonias, rhinitis, frequent colds, sinusitis, and chronic bronchitis; psychiatric/emotional problems such as attention deficit disorder, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, somatoform disorders, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, schizophrenia, panic disorders, irritability, anxiety, "spaciness," and chronic fatigue.
Government environmental agencies as well as medical organizations have increasingly recognized the role that a person's environment may play in the development of disease. However, many of the sub-clinical symptoms that environmental medical practitioners attribute to contaminants in the environment are not recognized by most mainstream doctors. The term sub-clinical is used to describe medical signs and symptoms that may not appear significant enough to warrant medical investigation and diagnosis.
Environmental medicine is an increasingly popular system of medical therapy, in part because treatment may involve modifying the patient's living and working spaces, rather than subjecting them to medicines, which may significantly impact the quality of life.

Related Terms

Bioaccumulation, environmental factors, stressors.