Know Your Anatomy

  • Why is it important for people to have a basic knowledge of anatomy and all the various parts in the body? These are biology lessons every one learns at school but soon forgets in adulthood.

The term Anatomy, as many other words in modern medicine, came from the ancient Greek terms ‘Ana’, meaning ‘up’ and ‘Tomia’, meaning ‘to cut’. The literal meaning of Anatomy can be roughly translated as “to cut up, or dissect”. Anatomy is basically the science of the structure of the body.

We all learn anatomy from a very early age, right from when babies are taught the names of various body parts. Everyone learns a little bit of basic anatomy in school. Often, later on in life, most of these lessons are, sadly, forgotten. A basic level of health literacy can be immensely helpful. People with a little awareness of their bodies can easier understand when something goes wrong in the body, allowing them to seek timely medical help. Such knowledge also helps the patient to communicate their specific sources of discomfort to the doctors, helping the doctor arrive at a more accurate diagnosis faster.

  • What are the disadvantages of being ignorant of such basic information?

A common instance is when people experience pain in the chest. Often, such a pain is dismissed as gas trouble and ignored. If it isn’t severe enough, people will often make do with home remedies. This can be dangerous, because such pain could be indicative of something as sinister as a heart attack. Many valuable lives have been lost prematurely, solely because of a lack of this basic knowledge.

To take another common example, pain in the right side of the lower abdomen could be a result of a number of causes. The more serious ones are usually appendicitis or ureteric colic. Dismissing such pain as indigestion and delaying treatment could result in serious complications, such as a burst appendix.

  • Does this mean that you need to be an expert? Or does it simply mean that we all need to be smart in our knowledge of how our body works?

An individual who is not medical trained cannot be termed a healthcare expert. Although a person definitely needs to be well informed about his/her body in order to know how the body functions and to understand if something seems abnormal. In the UK, a study was conducted recently to gauge the participants’ awareness of the location of the body’s internal organs. Surprisingly, (or perhaps, not) most of the participants were unaware of the location of most internal organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys, etc. While an in-depth knowledge of most of these organs isn’t necessary in daily life, it is vital to know where the important organs are, and what one experiences when they are malfunctioning. This will help the patient communicate the problems they’re facing to the doctor or healthcare provider. It will also make the doctor’s explanation of the issue and its solution much more meaningful to the patient. While knowing the difference between your adrenals and spleen might not be extremely useful, knowing the difference between a pain in the stomach and a pain in the appendix, or gall-bladder, could be a potential lifesaver.

  • Four in 10 people in this survey were unable to pinpoint the heart on a blank template of the human body. What does this suggest and how does this impact on our health?

Being unable to identify the location of the human heart in the body is an indication of poor health literacy and this is a matter of concern. One does not necessarily need to be aware of every ligament or muscle in the body. However, the human heart, kidney, lungs etc. are major organs involved in daily functioning and knowing about them is crucial in order to be able to identify right from wrong. Many of the health conditions relating to the heart present unusual symptoms, knowing about the organ and its functioning will help understand the different manifestations making is easier to understand if there is a health concern.

  • Is it true that knowing where our bits and pieces are helps us to monitor and understand our own health, and make better decisions about when to access healthcare services?

When a person uses the gym, a basic awareness of the various muscles and joints will help in the correct usage of exercise machines. This not only helps avoid injuries, but also helps increase the effectiveness of your workout. In sports, trauma is a common occurrence. The ability to distinguish a tendon or ligament injury from a fracture, can help administering the correct form of first aid.

Chronic aches in the back, neck, shoulders etc. are often related to bad posture resulting from a lack of awareness of the musculoskeletal structures. Learning about the correct postures, the effect these have on various muscles and joints, and adopting them will go a long way towards ensuring our joints last well into old age.

  • In extreme cases, can possessing such knowledge save our lives? Or this is an exaggerated claim?

Basic first aid measures if taken in case of an emergency can surely save a life. This does not mean that one can perform life saving measures without any training or just with information ready on the internet. Even if you are well read with health information, one must ensure to get it confirmed by a Doctor and must not follow anything blindly.

  • How can people stay well informed? In this day and age of information at the click of a mouse, knowing your body and how it functions is easy. Should people self-educate themselves? At least on the basics?

In the Information Age, people have easy access to many authentic sources on the internet, some of which even provide 3-dimensional images of various body parts and organs. We should all try to possess at least a basic knowledge of how the major internal organs work, where they are situated, and what we will experience when something goes wrong with one of them. People should definitely be well informed about the basic know-how’s of the body, in order to be able to be able to understand immediately if the body is not functioning normally.

  • How does it help doctors and specialists when patients come to them well informed?

The first responders in any emergency usually tend to be the bystanders in the area. A basic idea of anatomy will help them aid the victim without further jeopardizing the situation through inadvertent mishandling. However, in case of a medical professional, the chances of saving an individual’s life in case of an emergency becomes higher if the basic first aid or necessities have been performed by the bystanders. For instance managing a wound by stopping the excess flow of blood can be helpful in saving a patient’s life. Moreover if an individual is well informed about a particular condition, he would be better able to accurately explain his situation to the Doctor which in turn helps in effective treatment and management.

  • On the contrary, how does it complicate matters for doctors as patients may overuse or misuse their knowledge?

Like two sides of a coin, the availability of information in abundance is a boon and a bane. Such easy access to too much knowledge without the accompanying training can also be an insidious double-edged sword, especially in the medical field. One must never attempt to self-diagnose by looking up one’s symptoms on the internet. Not only will this “diagnosis” usually be wildly inaccurate, it will also cause unnecessary mental stress to the patient, further compounding the existing problem. Always remember: when in doubt, speak to your doctor! Trust your doctors to do their best for you.


Internal Medicine in Bur Dubai










Dr. Vani Krishna Warrier

Specialist Internal Medicine

Aster Clinic (AJMC), Bur Dubai


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