What you should have learned in school: staying up to date with your health checks

SAVANNAH PLASKITT

Every week Perdeby takes a look at something you should have learned at school to assist you in day-to-day life. This week, we take a look at which health checks you should be regularly getting and how to go about getting checked.

Being an adult means making your own doctor’s appointments (and for some, having to pay for them yourself), which often results in many people not seeking medical help until it becomes urgent. However, check-ups are the key to early diagnoses. Perdeby has put together a short guide on when to visit a medical professional and why.

 

The following are tests your GP can perform routinely to make sure you’re keeping healthy: 

BMI (body mass index) can be used to find out if your weight puts you at an increased risk for a disease. Although too much or too little muscle mass can make this measure inaccurate, it is still a very cheap way to get a general idea of what you may be at risk for. Diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD) may be a risk later in life if you have a high BMI, and a low BMI may indicate nutritional deficiencies which could lead to diseases such osteoporosis later in life.

 

Blood pressure is another quick and cheap way your doctor can gauge your health. Low blood pressure (although normal in many young women) may lead to dizziness, nausea, and fainting. Although high blood pressure usually has no visible symptoms (making a blood pressure check even more valuable) it can increase your risk of stroke or cardiovascular diseases.

 

Cholesterol profile is another broad medical test that can help identify problems. Although a blood test is needed to get your cholesterol numbers, this test is only needed every few years. High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries due to plaque build-up). This plaque build-up can narrow or even block your arteries, causing many cardiovascular diseases and increasing your risk for stroke.

 

The HIV test is recommended as soon as possible for anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to infected blood or body fluids, but it is also recommended yearly as a precaution.

Regular STI screenings can keep you from developing serious cases of infections like gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

 

A general GP visit can also help you find out if you’re up to date on your immunizations. Some vaccines recommended for adults in South Africa include:
An annual influenza vaccine to keep your cold from developing into the more serious flu.
Tetanus, which is only needed every ten years.
Pertussis (whooping cough), this vaccine can prevent you from becoming infected and can prevent new born babies dying from this disease, as they only receive their first vaccination for it at six weeks.
Three doses of HPV (human papillomavirus) for women. This vaccine reduces cervical cancer in women, which is the second most common cancer found in South African women.

 

Eyes:
Although visits to an optometrist every few years to make sure your vision is not deteriorating in any way are recommended, this can be an expensive process. Make use of campus health days or even online vision tests to determine if you need further medical assistance for vision or reading problems. An eye exam, performed by an optometrist, can be useful in early detection of eye diseases such as glaucoma.

 

Teeth:
The jury is still out on whether dental exams are needed every six months, every two years, or somewhere in between. But it is agreed that frequent dental visits can prevent serious problems later on. University-age students may need to have wisdom teeth removed if their mouths are too small or the wisdom teeth are compacting other teeth.

 

Mental health:
There is no recommended annual mental health check-up, but university students can be very susceptible to stress. Often students struggle with being away from their family systems, the intense work load, or friendship and relationship problems. If you feel like you are not coping, a quick visit to a mental health practitioner or Student Support on campus can keep the problem from escalating. If you feel like you have symptoms of depression or anxiety, a short screening can get you the help you need.

 

The following are some routine tests for women to aid early cancer detection:
Pelvic exam
– This exam can help spot early signs of cancer and find any diseases that may cause infertility later on, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and chlamydia. This exam should be conducted by a GP or gynaecologist.

Pap smear – This test is recommended every three years from the age of 21 and tests for the presence of cancerous cells (or pre-cancerous cells) on the cervix that causes cervical cancer. This test can be done by your gynaecologist. 

Mammogram or breast exam – A mammogram is an x-ray of your breast that allows a radiologist to see any signs of breast cancer (such as lumps). A breast exam may be a cheaper alternative to a mammogram and may lead to early detection of breast cancer. A self-breast exam can be conducted at home monthly, while an annual clinical breast exam should be conducted by a GP or gynaecologist.

 

 

 

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