HAVE you ever wondered if you need to see a doctor even when
you are not feeling ill? If you want to stay healthy in the long term, you
don’t need to wait for an illness to strike before you go for a health checkup.
There are some illnesses that you can prevent or manage more effectively if you
go for regular annual health check-ups. According to Dr Busisiwe Khumalo, a
physician at Leratong Hospital in Johannesburg, there are times where you feel
fine, but it is still advisable to consult your doctor to be sure that your
body is functioning optimally.
Regular checks will help you avoid future complications and
health damages, according to Dr Busisiwe. “Going for screening for illnesses
such as high blood pressure, TB (tuberculosis), HIV, blood sugar and high
cholesterol level is very important. The only way to find out if you are
infected with one of these sicknesses is to have them checked annually as they
may hide many symptoms in the early stages,” she says. There are some illnesses
which affect one gender more than the other but there are also some which are
not gender specific such as the following:
Sugar diabetes –
You must test your blood sugar level for diabetes. If you have a body
mass index of more than 25, which looks at your weight in accordance with your
height, it means you are overweight, you have a higher risk of getting
diabetes. You must be checked.
Blood pressure – Having your blood pressure
checked will depend on what the doctor finds on your initial results. If you
have no complications, you may have it checked every three years. But if your results indicate that you are at
risk, you will need to test more often.
“If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or any other
condition, you may need to have your blood pressure checked more often,” she
Cholesterol and heart disease prevention – If you are a high risk for heart
disease start getting checked as soon as possible, as early as the age of 20.
If you have other complications like diabetes, kidney problems and heart
disease, you will have to be checked more frequently.
mineral density (bmd) – A special scan can be done to find out your bone
solidity, which determines how strong or fragile your bones are. Thin bones
mean an increased risk of osteoporosis and taking the right medication to
prevent this illness is imperative.
¦ HIV – It is important to test for HIV regularly to ensure that
should you be infected, you are able to manage the illness and go on ARV
treatment as soon as possible. The earlier HIV is detected, the easier it will
be to manage so that you can continue living a healthy lifestyle.
Physical exam – Check your height at every
check-up. During your tests, your doctor will ask you about depression, alcohol
and drug use, smoking habit, diet and exercise. Dental and eye exams also need
to be done and if you have poor vision or dental problems, the doctor will
recommend more regular checks.
TESTS FOR WOMEN
Mammogram – This is a breast X-ray in which
your breast is compressed between two plates, to test for developing breast
cancer. Women over the age of 40 need to have annual mammograms. There are
specialised mammography clinics and radiology departments in hospitals which
deal with this. Remember, you need to check your own breasts monthly for
changes to the skin, the position of the nipple, the shape or size of the
breast or any lumps.
Cervical cancer – You need to have a Pap Smear as
it will assist in identifying any causes for concern in your cervix and surrounding
areas. Your doctor will use a special stick or brush to collect a few cells
from your cervix and send them to a laboratory where they will be examined
under a microscope to determine whether there are any abnormal or potentially
cancerous cells. You can be screened by your doctor, gynaecologist or at
women’s health clinic. According to Dr Busisiwe, when you are sexually active
you must check at least once a year. If you have a family history of cervical
cancer or have a Pap Smear that shows signs of abnormal cervical cells, this
puts you in a high risk group.
TESTS FOR MEN
Prostate – Starting at the age of 50, males should
have a digital exam of their prostate. “We use a
gloved finger in the rectum to determine if there is any swelling of the
prostate,” says Dr Busisiwe. Prostate specific
antigen (PSA) is a blood test that can be helpful in detecting prostate cancer.
Colon and rectum exam – Colorectal cancer almost always
develops from abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. Colonoscopy and exams
can find precancerous cells, so that they can be removed before they turn into