Checking In For A Check-Up
Only people 40 and over need to go for annual check-ups, says Dr Lorraine Becker, a GP in private practice in Johannesburg. “We don’t suggest that people of 20 go rushing off for an annual check-up because the pick-up rate for any problems is very low, so it’s not cost-effective. So we suggest that people from the age of 40 start doing annual check-ups.”
What to expect
At such a check-up, Becker says patients should talk about their family history, their medical past and anything that’s bothering them. “Doctors should go through anything in their past – family history is the most significant factor of all.”
Then the doctor will measure height and weight, and test for blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar. “The doctor should also talk about lifestyle issues, alcohol consumption, smoking and sexual partners. We don’t want to miss something relevant when talking to a patient,” says Becker.
The doctor will then give feedback about healthy lifestyle choices.
When to go earlier
While most people should start going for regular check-ups only at 40, Becker says this doesn’t mean that people should neglect their gender- and age-appropriate tests, including Pap smears for sexually active women, and self-examination of testes by men.
They should also be aware of their family history, and if a first-degree relative (a parent or sibling) has had any form of disease, their doctor might advise that they start being tested or screened for that disease 10 years before it was diagnosed in their relative.
“If you have a family history of breast cancer, you need to be more vigilant about that. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you need to be more vigilant about having colonoscopies,” she says. “You should be guided by your doctor. If there is a family history of some illness, you might start testing earlier than scheduled by the medical aids.”
Doctors will carry out a thorough examination of their patients at annual check-ups, taking these various factors into account, but if you are concerned about any specific aspect of your health, you can visit a pharmacy or clinic for a number of screening tests at a much lower cost.
Some medical aids, for instance Discovery and Momentum, also offer points or returns for adults who carry out an annual health check-up at a Dis-Chem pharmacy, which involves various screening tests, including blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.
“The difference between testing and screening is that testing is done to establish a diagnosis, whereas screening is carried out to detect early disease and refer to a doctor if further management is required,” says Sister Jairisha Namdhari, a nursing practitioner at Dis-Chem Nicolway.
While doctors, medical aids and other organisations may have a recommended screening or testing schedule in place, Becker says you should take charge of your own health. “Pay attention to what your body is telling you,” she says.
Ages for testing
Without any other risk factors, this is when you should start having various medical tests regularly:
Blood glucose – 45
Blood pressure – annually from adulthood
Cholesterol – every five years over 20, and every year for men over 45 and women over 55
Colorectal cancer screening – 50
Mammogram – women over 40
Pap smears – once a year after a woman becomes sexually active
Bone mineral density – as recommended by your GP
Prostate exam – 45 for men
Testicular cancer – monthly self-examination