Levels of Prevention: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary

The 3 Levels of Prevention:

  • Primary Prevention – an intervention that prevents the disease process from ever beginning
  • Secondary Prevention – an intervention that identifies and stops a disease early on in the disease process before the patient even realizes anything is wrong (before any clinical signs arise)
  • Tertiary Prevention – an intervention that is used for patients who already have clinical signs of the disease. These interventions attempt to cure a patient, decrease morbidity, decrease mortality or increase functionality


Diabetes Example:

  • Primary Prevention = Get currently healthy patients to adopt a healthy diet and exercise plan to prevent diabetes onset in the future
  • Secondary Prevention = Doing blood glucose screenings of asymptomatic patients to identify diabetics early on in the disease process so it can be treated before complications arise
  • Tertiary Prevention = Using medications to treat previously diagnosed diabetics in hopes of decreasing the onset and/or severity of symptoms


Here is a memory mnemonic that may help you remember the Three Levels of Prevention

Primary Prevention Secondary Prevention Tertiary Prevention Mnemonic

Much of medicine currently focuses on tertiary prevention, but in recent years there has been an increased emphasis on primary and secondary prevention. Primary prevention is theoretically the “best” form of prevention as you completely prevent the patient from ever having the disease. However, altering risk factors and preventative factors enough to completely prevent a disease is often very difficult. Therefore, the best prevention programs simultaneously target multiple levels of prevention.

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