What is Internal Medicine?

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Internal medicine in the USA is the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of adult diseases. The term for a specialist in this area is internist, which can cause confusion in other countries, as they often mistake the word for ‘intern’ which means a first year student of medicine. Another common mistake for those not familiar with the term is to assume that an internist is a specialist in gastroenterology only, which again is a misconception although this discipline is included in internal medicine. In fact, internal medicine covers a whole host of specialisms, including such areas as geriatric medicine and adolescent medicine as well as the more umbrella terms such as cardiology, rheumatology and a whole host more.                 

Gastroenterology is the study of diseases of the digestive system and leads naturally into nephrology, which is covers the specialism of diseases of the kidney and the urinary tract generally. This also covers transplant surgery, as does hepatology, the specific study of the liver. This is linked very often to oncology, as the liver is frequently the site of secondary neoplasms from a variety of primary sites, for example the lungs, which are covered by pulmonology. From this short list it should be clear that internal medicine is not a whole lot of separate disciplines which have nothing to say to each other, but a group of interconnecting areas which all have a place in the wider sphere.

Other specialisms in the area of internal medicine as defined in USA terminology and laid down and administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine are the study of the blood, covered by hematology and the study of infectious diseases. Others which may seem more surprising are sleep medicine and sports medicine. Sleep medicine is a growing area of study and it certainly is important to get sleep right, because without a good night of good quality sleep healing is slower and mental health can be seriously impaired. Sports medicine is also a fast growing discipline, with more people taking the national obesity problem to heart and working out in the gym and jogging, spinning and all manner of other aerobic activity. Unfortunately, when untrained people and gym equipment mix, there are often accidents and these are sometimes quite serious and can be life changing. Sports medicine not only addresses this kind of issue but also helps the patient to retrain so their return to sport will be a much safer experience.

There are many sub-specialities in internal medicine, with others being considered all of the time. The American College of Osteopathic Internists recognize most of the disciplines which the American Board of Internal Medicine do, but they include allergy and immunology as one of those accepted as internal medicine. As allergies and immune diseases can either affect other organs or may point to a malfunction internally, this is quite a sound decision. The number of people suffering from allergies worldwide is increasing fast and as an area of study it is therefore increasingly important.

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