Preventive therapy, sometimes referred to as preventive medicine or preventive treatment, is a general term used to describe any course of treatment or therapy aimed at defending against a health problem instead of treating the problem after it arises. Preventive therapy can come in many different forms and is often aimed at different groups of people. In some cases, universal measures are taken to prevent an entire population from being affected by a given condition. In other cases, preemptive medical care is given to groups or individuals who are at particularly high risk for certain conditions. Prevention may mean taking measures to ensure that a condition never develops at all or it may mean diagnosing and treating a problem before it can do any serious damage.
Public health professionals and healthcare workers focused on individual health are often involved in preventive therapy. Public health professionals, for instance, might decide that all infants should be vaccinated against certain diseases. Doctors tend to administer the actual vaccinations and to advise patients on lifestyle choices that could expose them to risks of unpleasant health conditions. In some cases, doctors may suggest preventive therapy to individuals belonging to groups that public health professionals have recognized as being at high risk of some form of illness. The interplay between public and individual health allows for much more effective and targeted approaches to preventative medicine.
Sometimes, preventive therapy simply involves informing individuals about the risks of certain activities. Schools, businesses, and doctors often place a great deal of emphasis on the risks of alcohol consumption, tobacco use, unprotected sex, and other potentially risky activities, for instance. People who know the risks are less likely to find themselves in unexpected and unpleasant health situations.
Many different types of medicines, often referred to as prophylactics, are used in preventive therapy as well. Some types of antibiotics, for example, are used to prevent bacterial infections before they can occur in the first place. Likewise, travelers are often given antimalarial medication before they travel to areas in which malaria is a problem. The use of prophylactics can, in many cases, entirely mitigate the risk of a given illness or condition occurring.
Targeted preventive therapy is not always possible. In such cases, preventive therapy must generally start with early diagnosis. Some conditions, including some forms of cancer, can be treated before they do any serious harm if they are detected early. Individuals at high risk for certain conditions are, therefore, often advised to get tested regularly in order to diagnose and treat the conditions before they can cause problems.