Modern medicine: Check-ups. Worthwhile? Or a waste of time?


Check-ups are inherently involved in that important feature called the Quality of Life. Longevity alone, with no Quality, just isn’t worth having. Being stuck in a wheelchair as a double amputee for the last 20 years of your life because you did not know you had diabetes is not the Quality I would want.

Check-ups are designed to find deviations from normal health patterns at an early stage. Early enough to reverse the trend, before damage has occurred. This includes high Blood Pressure (BP), a significant factor in poor future health if unchecked now. Unfortunately, elevated BP generally gives no warning symptoms.

Now blood sugar. It requires sky-high sugar levels before you begin to feel that something might be wrong. By then the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular system and many other systems, all of which can decrease your future Quality of Life.

Cardiac conditions are very easily found during a routine check-up. Blood tests and an ECG (EKG) can show just how well the heart is functioning. The inability to walk more than 30 meters certainly takes the fun out of shopping!

Other silent killers can be discovered in your lipid profile, with Cholesterol and its fractions HDL and LDL being intimately connected with your heart’s health. Detecting abnormalities now can mean that you can get through the deadly 50-60 year age bracket with clean coronary arteries and a clean bill of health.

There are so many conditions that can affect your enjoyment of the future, but 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).

My hospital has check-up packages, but unfortunately asking “What package should I have,” is like asking “How long is a piece of string?” However, there are some general guidelines depending on your age and your personal and family medical histories.

If you are a non-smoker, under 30 years old, play sport every weekend, train regularly during the week, have never visited a doctor other than childhood immunizations and have grandparents alive and well, then a very simple general check-up is all that is needed. You are not at high risk, but it is good to have a baseline to compare against as you get older! If everything is normal, then a repeat check every two years will be fine.

If you are under 40 years of age, but have given up the regular training and weekend sport, you are in a somewhat different situation. Your ‘risk’ category is higher and now is the time to look at your cardiovascular system in particular. Lipid (blood fats) profile and a check on your red and white cells and a blood sugar reading will cover most major future problem areas. If both grandparents are still around, and your check-ups have been normal, then continue your biennial check-ups, but if the grandparents have popped their clogs, then step up the frequency to annually.

By the time you are in the 40-50 age bracket, now is the time you should be looking at exercise stress tests and vascular screening. Now is also the time to apply yourself to correct any lifestyle factors which are going against your general health. By the way, if you are female then you should throw a Pap Smear into the annual equation as well.

But it gets worse! When you pass the magic 50 number, you are considered to be ‘at risk’. If you have become overweight, smoke cigarettes and get no exercise, then you have a much greater risk. If you are a male, then you should add in your prostate screen, the PSA blood test.

By the time you pass 60, then it is prudent to check everything from head to toe. Really! If you are having any doubts about your health, then it might be worth the indulgence.

If you have been having some symptoms of ill health, or have a poor family history, then discus these with your doctor before deciding which check-up package and add-ons you should have. The important factor is to get into the habit of regular check-ups. Your family will thank you.