Hate anything to do with doctors and hospitals? You’re not alone. There are, however, certain health checks throughout our lives we should have, to ensure we live a healthy life
If you belong to a medical aid, you’re probably being encouraged to rush off to your local clinic every year for a routine health check. This isn’t just about getting the right points and ticking all the right boxes, however. There are very good reasons for making sure you get yourself checked out regularly.
I’m 20 – what’s the point?
- You should be used to an annual dental check-up (or at least one every two years!), which your mother probably dragged you to every year. Looking after your teeth will prevent the pain of infection, tooth loss and great expense further down the line. This should be a life-long practice.
- Your eyes are now mature and your vision should have stabilised, but eye tests are still necessary every two years at least, unless you experience change of vision, in which case you should go sooner.
- Those immunisations you had a kid may be reaching their expiry date, so make sure your immunisations (such as tetanus, etc.) are up to date – particularly if you’re travelling a lot.
- Even if you’re healthy, you should start monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked every three to five years, to pick up any potential problems, especially if there’s a family history of these.
- It’s also a good idea to check your height, weight and BMI (if the kilos are creeping on) and chat about things like diet and exercise, your mental and emotional health, as well as alcohol and tobacco use. Even at this young age, you may need to keep an eye on these.
- Never seen a dermatologist? Now’s the time to start, particularly if you’re an outdoorsy person who does a lot of sport. The dermatologist will check all your freckles, moles and any blemishes – preferably doing mole mapping, which tracks how moles change over the years – and alert you to any potential problems. You can monitor these yourself, but be sure to see the doctor if you see any changes, and particularly if you experience any pain, bleeding or itching. Sad to say, malignant melanoma skin cancer is most common among young people.
- Sexually active? It’s considered essential to have tests for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) if you’re having unprotected sex. They check for a whole range of sexually transmitted conditions, including hepatitis and HIV.
- Guys, check your testes. Do it yourself at least once a month. Testicular cancer has a high cure rate if found and treated early, so be aware of any unusual lumps, swelling or unexplained pain and see your doctor.
- If you haven’t already had one in your teens and you are sexually active, you should have a pap smear every two years – and make sure you go back whenever your doctor recommends you do.
- Examine your breasts for any suspicious lumps or changes about once a month. Mammograms are not usually required for women under 40, but you should discuss any family history of cancer (particularly breast cancer) with your doctor to get the best advice about when this may be indicated.
- All of the above still apply.
- For women, you may now be thinking about children (if you didn’t start in your twenties), so an annual visit to the gynaecologist becomes essential. Apart from making sure you have the routine pap smear, a pelvic examination may detect any anomalies in your ovaries or uterus.
- Don’t neglect your dentist! It seems these regular check-ups fall to the bottom of the pile of important things to do as we get older and busier and spend our money on our children’s needs. Teeth continue to shift as we age, and you need to check that your bite isn’t wearing down your teeth and causing potential problems.
- Once again, if you haven’t already started, this may be a good time to start taking some supplements, especially good-quality Omega 3 oil, which helps your skin and organs. A hectic working schedule means we often eat badly or on the run, so a good multivitamin can help to fill in some of the gaps.
- 95% of skin cancers can be treated successfully if found early. By now you should know your skin well and be aware of any changes to freckles, moles. etc.
- Make friends with your tape measure (rather than your scale). A quick and easy way to check whether you’re carrying too much weight is to measure your waistline. An increased waistline could be the first indicator that you may be at risk of developing serious health problems such as heart disease.
- Once you hit this decade, add a glaucoma screening to your list of important thing to do. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness and, while there is no cure, early detection means that the condition can be controlled without damaging the eye.
- At this stage of life, many of us are starting to find that our arms are suddenly shorter than they used to be and reading glasses are in order. Rather than picking up a pair at your local pharmacy, start the habit of visiting an optometrist who can not only sell you the cheap readers, but also check for glaucoma and other abnormalities.
- For men, prostate problems are common over age 40, so if you suddenly experience difficulty urinating or have to get up more than twice a night to urinate, it’s time to visit the doctor. Routine screening for prostate cancer is not usually recommended unless there is some family history. This would be a good time to start having this conversation with your GP.
- Women may start feeling the first twinges of perimenopause. It may be a good idea to visit your gynae for a crashcourse in what to expect, start prepping for the changes and considering your options.
Fantastic 50s and beyond
- If you suffer from any chronic disease such as diabetes, those regular visits to your doctor become even more important – don’t let these slip.
- It sounds like the last thing you’d ever want to do, but don’t avoid a colonoscopy! It’s an essential test for both men and women, as the risk for bowel cancer increases significantly from the age of 50. Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps. These polyps can be detected in a routine colonoscopy and are easily removed. Because the polyps, and even early stage cancer, may have no symptoms, regular screening is vital. Once again, unless there is family history or special risk factors, a routine colonoscopy is only required every five years.
- Feel like you’re missing out? It may be time for a hearing test. A fairly large percentage of people suffer some sort of hearing loss as they age. This may be temporary and easily treated, or may require a more permanent solution. Once again, the sooner you check things out, the better the eventual outcome.
- Men and women are at risk of developing brittle bones and, if there is family history of osteoporosis, this test may be suggested as early as 45.
- If you neglected taking those supplements when you were younger, you most certainly need to add at least calcium with vitamin D to your shopping list. At some point (probably when you’re closer to 60), your doctor may suggest a bone density test.
- Women can add the joy of the mammogram to all of the above. From the age of 50, you should have a mammogram every two years. If there is a family history of breast cancer, these screenings could start in your 40s or earlier. Younger breast tissue is more dense than older tissue, so often a mammogram is not enough and ultrasound is done as well.
- Don’t forget those all important self-checks. You should know your breasts really well by now, so take note of any changes in the size or shape of the nipple or the breast itself. Also look for redness, dimpling, lumps or bleeding.
- Menopause eventually arrives for all women – some while still in their 40s or some much later. While some women seem to sail through this stage of their life with little or no drama, for others it’s a very difficult time. See your gynaecologist or wellwoman doctor who knows you well for the best advice.
- These tests will probably become routine as you enter your sixties and seventies, and your GP will keep you on the right track. If you’re developing multiple age-related diseases such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, etc., it may be a good idea to ask your GP to refer you to a specialist physician who can assess you holistically and check on medication and possible interactions to ensure you are receiving the best possible treatment.
Ageing is not for the faint-hearted, but it is inevitable and has its own perks. Make sure you take care of yourself right from the start and, to quote Star Trek’s Mr Spock: ‘live long and prosper’!