The Biggest Health Trends of 2018 According to Top Doctors

Jan 8, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Enis Aksoy/Getty Images

One of the most exciting parts about the medical and health care space is that it’s constantly changing. Of course, new technology comes with new ethical challenges, but that means there are also more opportunities to help people prevent and treat a wide variety of health conditions. Now that 2018 is in full swing, let’s take a look at some of the biggest upcoming health trends straight from some of the leaders in the medical field.

1. Women taking ownership of their health

There were a lot of really frustrating and difficult parts of 2017, but as someone who focuses on women’s health and well-being, it was kind of great to see other people finally start paying attention and believing us. The good news is, Dr. Jocelyn Craig, a urogynecologist/OB-GYN and medical director of the Center for Women’s Pelvic Health at the Long Beach (California) Medical Center sees 2018 continuing in the same direction, with women putting their own wellness at the tops of their priority lists.

Traditionally, women are caregivers and have learned to put the needs of others first,” Craig tells SheKnows. “We now are also a large percentage of the workforce, and our own mind and body wellness has been pushed to the background. We are learning that in order to continue as well-balanced caregivers, women must take care of their own bodies and needs first.”

Craig also foresees women seeking to broaden their options in regard to their sexual health.

“I see more and more women seeking treatment for long-term urinary and fecal incontinence, but what impresses me more is how the #MeToo movement has encouraged women to be more open about issues of sexual health,” she says.

In particular, Craig says women are finding out there are so many options for treatment for sexual health issues, running the spectrum of complementary to traditional medical treatments, including mind-body work, pharmacologic agents and specific surgical treatments.

“Women are speaking up,” she adds. “They are saying ‘my body matters to me.’”

2. Advancements on breast cancer diagnosis & treatment

Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer occurring in American women. And according to Dr. Gary Levine, medical director at MemorialCare Breast Centers in Southern California, in 2018, we will continue to see the effects of technological advancements on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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For example, tomosynthesis (3-D mammography) will continue to supplant 2-D mammography as the gold standard for breast screening, he tells SheKnows.

In addition to that, new technologies recently developed will allow women who must undergo breast surgery to do so without undergoing a preoperative wire localization, adds Levine, who is also a past president of the National Consortium of Breast Centers. Specifically, large cohort studies with five years of follow-up will be published comparing the traditional six weeks of external beam radiation therapy to single-dose intraoperative radiation therapy for adjuvant treatment of localized breast cancer following lumpectomy.

Levine also says cancer genomics and individualized breast cancer therapy will continue to advance.

3. Improvements in gastroenterology

When something doesn’t feel right in your tummy area, it’s easy to pass it off as a “stomachache" (even though it's unlikely it’s your literal stomach) and overlook symptoms of various gastrointestinal issues. But now, with more people aware of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, we’re getting better at seeking medical help if it’s more than just last night’s takeout that’s making us feel unwell.

More: No, You Probably Don't Have a Stomachache

Dr. Ketan Shah, a gastroenterologist at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, says the field will continue to make great strides, including in the treatment of acid reflux. Specifically, more durable, minimally invasive procedures for acid reflux will be increasingly performed.

“These treatments are incisionless and performed through the mouth, including transoral incisionless fundoplication procedure and Stretta,” Shah tells SheKnows.

Along the same lines, he says several new medications have recently been approved to treat IBS — both the kind associated with constipation and with diarrhea. This is especially good news for women, because IBS is two to six times more likely to occur in females and related to increased sensitivity in the gut in response to irritants and other stimuli.

Additionally, although esophageal cancer continues to be the most rapidly rising cancer in incidence in the U.S., it can be prevented by detecting it in its precancerous stage, called Barrett's esophagus, Shah says.

“Recent advances have been made in detecting and treating Barrett's esophagus, including advanced imaging techniques, a 3-D biopsy brush specially designed to detect Barrett's and various modalities to eradicate Barrett's before it develops into cancer,” he adds.

4. More women will be represented in research

One of the primary and underlying reasons medicine sometimes fails women is that we’re not always included in research. This is especially true for women of color. But according to Dr. Laurie Mortara, an infectious disease specialist at the Long Beach (California) Medical Center, that could change in 2018.

“With increased interest in ‘personalized medicine’ in which a person’s genetic makeup helps determine their response to medications, we need more information on how women respond differently to various therapies,” she tells SheKnows. “This has been recently focused on in the area of cancer research, and there has been interest in looking at this in cardiac research as well.”

5. It will be a safer year to have a baby

Unfortunately, the U.S. still lags behind many other developed countries in the prevention of severe maternal morbidity and mortality during pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period. Specifically, obstetrical hemorrhage and hypertensive complications of pregnancy continue to pose serious threats to pregnant women and their fetuses.

Fortunately, Dr. Gerardo Bustillo, an OB-GYN at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, indicates that 2018 promises continued awareness and understanding of these threats.

“Collaborative paradigms, such as patient-safety bundles and early warning alerts in electronic medical records, continue to be developed by many local and national organizations and promise even safer pregnancy and delivery experiences in 2018 and beyond,” he tells SheKnows.

Along the same lines, Mortara says women should expect more education and screening to protect themselves and their babies from infectious diseases, including the Zika virus. Similarly, women in California are being educated that their newborns are at risk for whooping cough and that all adults who hold their infant must have received a booster Tdap vaccine, Mortara adds.

6. More robotic-assisted surgery in gynecology

In 2018, Dr. Marc Winter, an OB-GYN and medical director of minimally invasive surgery at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, thinks it will be a big year for robotic-assisted surgery, especially for hysterectomy (removal of uterus), myomectomy (removal of fibroids), treatment of endometriosis and pelvic prolapse surgeries.

“Robotic-assisted surgery has resulted in less time in the hospital; smaller incisions, which reduce risks of infection; minimal scarring; and faster recoveries,” he tells SheKnows.

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With that, Winter says we’ll also see new companies emerge with their technology, which will give surgeons more choices and start to drive down the technology costs.

“Controlling costs while maintaining and improving quality will be a big emphasis for health care in general,” he adds.

Overall, it sounds like health care in 2018 will be getting more personalized — especially for women. And as Craig reminds us, don’t forget to take care of yourself as well as others.

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