Health Checks Ensure You Stay Healthy
Regular health checks ensure you stay fit and healthy. Many health problems are not apparent without health checks. Regular checks you do yourself keep you in tune with your body. A medical practitioner must also perform some checks. This article will explain why it is important to have regular health checks, including several you can do yourself. It also includes a recommended schedule for health checks that your doctor will do.
The advantages of a regular health check-up
The most important reason to have regular health check-ups is the early detection of diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Treatment is much more successful if caught at an early stage, before complications have set in. Many life threatening diseases have little to no symptoms. For example, kidney failure. Other health issues may have symptoms that are vague or mistaken for other conditions. Symptoms such as fatigue can relate to many different causes. Vague symptoms are often explained by lifestyle factors such as being busy. Without regular checkups a health issue can be overlooked until you develop a serious illness.
My Back Pain Masked a Serious Health Condition
I have a chronic degenerative spinal condition which is very common in nurses. CT scans and bone scans show degeneration in the fascia joints in my spine. When my back pain intensified, my doctor prescribed a cortisone injection under CT guidance. This successfully treated the pain, so I had them regularly with improvement in my pain.
When I developed severe back pain on the opposite side of the degeneration my GP prescribed stronger pain killers. I suffered for over two years, believing the pain was caused by degeneration. I did not really understanding why my pain was on the opposite side. It wasn’t until I developed complications after surgery this year that it was found that I had hydronephrosis. The back pain was actually caused by a blockage which caused the urine to reflux back into my kidney.
This would have led to serious kidney problems if it hadn’t been detected as an incidental finding. I’m a Registered Nurse and I hadn’t even suspected my back pain was kidney related. This is one example of how serious health issues can be overlooked, especially if they can be tied in with existing, known health issues.
The health checks you can do yourself
You can do many health checks yourself. If you find anything concerning, you can then see a doctor. Get to know your own body by doing these regular health checks:
Skin – Regularly check your skin, taking note of any moles, freckles and skin blemishes. A doctor, preferably at a specialised skin cancer clinic, should assess any changes. The doctors at skin cancer clinics are experienced in assessing skin. They use specialised equipment designed to detect early skin changes. Early changes that might indicate skin cancer can be treated before they develop further.
Weight – check once per week. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your waist circumference as well. Any waist measurement over 88cm (35 inches) for women and 102cm (40 inches) for men may mean you are at high risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. See my article Why Your Waist Measurement Matters for more information.
Dental – Dentists should examine any lesions and bleeding that don’t resolve in a week. Clean teeth at least daily and use floss as your oral health is vital for overall well-being. Have a regular checkup and clean by a dentist at least yearly.
Mental and emotional health – seek medical help if you have symptoms of anxiety, intense sadness, fatigue, insomnia or changes in appetite that don’t resolve after a month or two.
In addition to the above, women need to do monthly breast self examinations. See my article How to Perform a Breast Self Examination (and Why) for a complete guide. Men need to perform a testicular self examination monthly from puberty onwards. See your doctor if there is any unusual thickening or lumps.
The health checks your doctor will do
Have a regular check-up with your doctor every two years. Be aware of your family health history as it may mean you need screening more often – see my article Know Your Personal and Family Health History for more information. Your doctor should be able to tell you if you are at high risk for certain diseases. Additional screening to the following may be recommended.
The recommended health checks for both men and women:
Skin checks: Yearly
Heart health – blood pressure every two years from age 40, more often if you have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease. You should also have your blood tested to check for high cholesterol and triglycerides every 5 years from age 45, more often if high risk. If you are high risk you may also have an ECG (electrocardiogram) or cardiac echo, which are both non-invasive checks. A one-off test is offered at age 45-49 to screen for high risk of heart disease.
Bowel screening every two years from age 50. (A bowel screen kit will be sent to your home if you are an Australian resident)
Sexual health – yearly if sexually active. See your doctor immediately if you have pain, discharge, lesions or if you have unprotected sex.
Eye tests for glaucoma and macular degeneration – every two years after age 40s if you have a family history. From age 65 if you notice vision deterioration.
Bone density from the age of 45 (women) or 50 (men) if at risk for example, a family history of osteoporosis.
Diabetes – A fasting blood sugar test. A one-off test is offered at age 45-49 to screen for high risk of type 2 diabetes. Those at high risk of Type 2 Diabetes should be checked 1-3 yearly. 3 yearly for people not at risk, from the age of 40. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should start 3 yearly checks from age 18.
Hearing Impairment – a hearing assessment yearly after age 65.
Kidney disease – every 1-2 years if at high risk.
Immunity – Flu shots (Influenza vaccinations) yearly after age 65. If you are high risk or work in the health care industry you should also have Influenza and Hepatitis B vaccinations.
Health Checks for Women
In addition to the above health checks, women should have:
Cervical screening every 5 years from the time you are sexually active. The cervical screening Test has replaced the Pap Smear. It should be started at age 25 or two years after your last Pap Smear.
Breast screening every 2 years from age 50-74. If you are high risk you will be offered screening from a younger age and more frequently. For example, I have been having yearly mammograms and ultrasounds plus MRIs every 2 years because of my high risk. Some women have them more frequently than that, depending on your doctor’s preference.
Health Checks for Men
In addition to the above health checks, men should have:
Prostate – Annual prostate checks from age 50, earlier if you have a family history. This involves a blood test (PSA), and may include a digital rectal examination. See your doctor if you have trouble urinating, pain, blood in your urine, night-time urination frequently, or incontinence.
Be an Advocate for your own Health
You are the best advocate for your own health. If you suspect you have a health issue, see your doctor. If you are unhappy with the outcome, seek another opinion. You know your own body. Keep track of the symptoms, write them down, and identify any patterns. If you are unsure of whether you should see a doctor, refer to my article Signs You Need to See a Doctor.
Let your doctor know of any family history of disease. Keep track of your personal and family health history – see this article for more information. Most important, keep up with your health screening and the regular health checks you should be having.
Please note: I am a Registered Nurse of 30 years but I am unable to give specific medical advice. If you are concerned please see your GP. Screening schedules may differ depending on where you live. The schedule recommended here is for guidance only. This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. Please refer to the disclaimer.
Further reading: While researching this article, I found the most thorough information at the following websites: