Many people work on the principle that they would rather not know about any underlying or sinister medical conditions they may have. After all, we are all going to die one day, aren’t we? I have always said that despite all advances in medical science, the death rate will always be the same – one per person!
However, check-ups are inherently involved in that important feature called the Quality of Life. Longevity alone, with no quality, just isn’t worth it in my book. Or yours, most likely, otherwise you would not be reading this column.
The guiding principle behind check-ups is to find deviations from normal health patterns at an early stage. Early enough that the trend can be reversed, before damage has occurred. Examples of this include Blood Pressure (BP), a significant factor in poor health in the future if unchecked now. High BP can affect many organs in the body, not just the heart. But an elevated BP generally gives no warning symptoms.
Another example is blood sugar. Again, it requires sky-high sugar levels before the person begins to feel that something might be wrong. And by then the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular system and many other systems, all of which can decrease your quality of life in the future. Amputation of a limb is a common result of unchecked blood sugar levels. A situation that nobody would wish for themselves, I am sure.
Respiratory conditions also rate high on the list of medical events that can decrease your quality of life. Yet the majority of these can be found early, and treated successfully.
Cardiac conditions and abnormalities, be that in anatomy or function, can also very adversely affect your quality of life, but are very easily found during a routine check-up. Various blood tests and an EKG can show just how well the cardiac pump is functioning, and how well it will continue to function in the future. The inability to walk more than 50 meters certainly takes the fun out of shopping, yet this can be predicted – if you have some serial records!
Another of the silent killers can be discovered in your lipid profile, with Cholesterol and its fractions HDL and LDL, being intimately connected with your cardiac status. Again, a situation where detecting abnormalities now can mean that you can get through the deadly 50-60 year age bracket in the future with clear coronary arteries and a clean bill of health.
There are actually so many of the conditions that can affect your enjoyment of the future that can be discovered early. Renal (kidney) function and liver function can be monitored through an annual check-up, as can prostate size (indicated by the PSA blood test) or breast tumors (by mammogram).
So, hopefully I have influenced you enough to begin to think about an annual check-up. If you are under 40 years of age, and think you are in good health (non-smoker and moderate drinker) then every two years will be fine. If you are older than 40, then make it an annual event. It is good ‘insurance’ for the future.
And what degree of check-up should you go for? If you are in tip-top health and previous check-ups have been normal, then go for the simple screen – however, if you are a smoker, or have some previous results outside of normal, move up a notch to the more comprehensive tests. I would also suggest that if you are over 50, look for the more detailed check-ups.