Regular health check-up’s are tedious, pricey, and generally a damned nuisance – but the inconvenience is nothing compared to what you’ll be up against if you develop a disease that is only detected at an advanced stage… Here’s what you need to know about the most important health check-up’s.
When we’re healthy, we find it hard to imagine that we’ll ever get sick. Yet we all know that when we’re under the weather – lying in bed with a blocked nose and sore throat, unable to sleep, there’s not much we wouldn’t do to feel well again. But looking after your health isn’t just about avoiding the flu; far less pleasant conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes are all too real for a huge portion of the population.
Thinking that it won’t happen to you (and anyway, why waste money on health check-ups when you feel perfectly healthy?) is just nuts, considering that most of the diseases above are curable, or at least manageable, if detected early. Nobody likes to visit the doctor (unless he looks like McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy, right?), let alone fork out hard-earned cash for the privilege. Think of it as an insurance policy: we go for regular check-ups to avoid having to spend a heck of a lot more time in hospital down the line, and the eye-watering cost thereof.
Sound like a plan? Right. Here are some appointments you need to make if you haven’t already.
It’s about as pleasant as root canal, but it really does have to be done, and is at least as important as your bi-annual dentist appointment (you do make a bi-annual dentist appointments, don’t you?). A pap smear can pick up signs of cervical cancer and HPV (human papilloma virus), which is known to increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. If you’re sexually active or over 21, make this appointment once a year.
Breast exam/ mammogram
When you go for your annual pap, your gynaecologist or doctor will most likely examine your breasts as well. It’s best to examine your breasts regularly at home though, at least once a month – ask your gynae how to do it if unsure (also, there are plenty of tutorials online). If you regularly use body lotion after bathing, take the opportunity to examine your breasts at the same time, and report any bumps or inconsistencies to your doctor immediately. If you’re over 40, you should be having an annual mammogram – breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women, and has a high survival rate if detected early.
Blood pressure and cholesterol
You should have your blood pressure checked every two years (more often if your blood pressure is higher than 130/80), and your cholesterol levels need to be checked every four years or so (more frequently if you have an abnormal result). High blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for a whole lot of deeply unpleasant diseases, so you want to keep them in check.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in South Africa – and don’t think that because you’re in your twenties, you don’t need to worry – it can affect anyone (though, granted, our risk increases as we get older). Consult a dermatologist once a year, and keep an eye out for any marks or moles on your body that grow in size, bleed, are asymmetrical and/or change colour.
Most people think that if they’ve had a test for HIV and been cleared, they’re STI (sexually transmitted infection) free. However there’s still a chance you could have contracted one of over 20 other types of STI, which may show no symptoms at all. Hepatitis B, for example, can cause damage to your liver, while gonorrhoea and chlamydia could both affect your fertility.
Most of us think eye exams are just about whether or not we need specs, but the eye specialist also checks for early signs of problems such as glaucoma and other eye diseases, which are treatable if detected early. Have your eyes tested every two to five years, or as directed by your eye doctor.