5 routine health screenings that could save your life
Posted on 1 January 2023
These annual health screenings should be on your calendar.
Regular preventative health screenings are crucial for good health. Dr David Walsh, a family physician at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, rounds up the annual health checks you should never skip.
- Blood pressure
“Hypertension (high blood pressure) is underdiagnosed, undertreated and it’s a silent killer – because you don’t feel sick from blood pressure,” says Dr Walsh, adding that people tend not to take elevated blood pressure seriously, often writing it off to stress. “Don’t take this thing lightly,” he urges. “It’s the most important screening. You can make a massive difference to people if you just treat their blood pressure – you stop cardiovascular disease in its tracks.”
- Glucose screening
Elevated blood glucose could be a sign of diabetes – another silent killer that can wreak havoc on your body without any symptoms. The screening involves a simple finger prick that can be done in your health provider’s rooms and the results are immediate. “It doesn’t even need to be fasting, it can be a random sugar screening,” says Dr Walsh.
Another screening for cardiovascular risk, this is also quick, with immediate results. While Dr Walsh sends patients to the lab for cholesterol screening, some GPs perform the test in their rooms.
You may not think standing on a scale would count as a health screening, but it’s an important one. Unexplained fluctuations in body weight can be a sign of many underlying health conditions, Dr Walsh explains.
- Abdominal circumference
This should be no more than 101cm in men and 88cm in women. And the screening has nothing to do with aesthetics, says Dr Walsh. “If it’s higher, you may become insulin resistant and that’s a precursor to diabetes – so a large abdominal circumference puts you on a slippery slope to diabetes.”
Screenings for men
Testicular self-exam. You’re looking for a hard lump in the testicle, difference in size between the two testicles or if one testicle feels harder than the other. “Testicular cancer, like breast cancer, is not painful, so self-examination is very important.”
Prostate exam. Men over age 40 should have this screening annually.
Colonoscopy. A must for all men between the ages of 50-55. “If you only go for one colonoscopy in your life, this is the time to get it – it has the best strike rate in terms of catching early disease and preventing future complications. It could save your life,” says Dr Walsh. He recommends this screening for women in their early fifties, too.
Screenings for women
Pap smear. Sexually active women who have the same sexual partner should have this screening every two years, or if they’re over 35, every five years. If you change your sexual partner, you should have a Pap smear every year, advises Dr Walsh.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) screening: The lab tests the same sample used for the Pap smear, but it’s not a standard test, so you must request it.
Mammogram: An annual breast screening from age 40.
Bone density test: Add this to your list of annual screenings from age 50.
“With most of these procedures, there’s only mild discomfort,” says Dr Walsh. “Sometimes it’s a bit awkward but, as doctors, we’re aware of the discomfort and will always treat the patient with utmost care and respect. You must embrace your body and take care of it.”