Routine health checks keep you in tip-top shape
We should not underestimate the importance of regular health check-ups. Busy parents, in particular, tend to neglect their own health because of work and family commitments. Notes Dr Derek Koh, head of Thomson Wellth Clinic, “Many individuals would have certain family members who died of illnesses like heart attacks and strokes. These illnesses are actually very preventable or treatable, especially if detected early.” Find out why you should get your health checked regularly, plus get advice from Dr Koh on tests to consider and the follow-up action you can take if your results are abnormal.
1. Screens are part of preventive care
Going for regular health screening is essentially preventive medicine, as it helps to look out for risk factors that make a person vulnerable to certain diseases. For example, heart attacks and strokes do not occur spontaneously. The primary causes of these diseases are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and lack of exercise. Men are also more prone to heart disease. If a patient is at high risk of developing heart disease, doctors will check the heart with a treadmill ECG, arrange for a stress echo test to assess the heart’s function or a CT angiogram, which shows narrowed or blocked areas of a blood vessel.
2. Cancers are more common than you think
Statistics show that 30 per cent of the population will die of cancer, and another 30 per cent will die of heart attacks and strokes. This means in a room of 10 people, three people are likely to get cancer. As it is impossible to tell who are the three, it is best to go for screenings to nip diseases in the bud before they progress to a point where medicine cannot heal. Doctors will look at the family history and national statistics to determine which are the top three or five most common cancers a patient might develop.
3. Early detection can prolong lifespans
Patients who have their cancers detected at Stage One have a survival rate of 80 per cent or even higher. However, once the disease reaches Stages Three or Four, survival rates drop to just 50 per cent or to even as low as 5 per cent for more aggressive cancers. Individuals are unlikely to be able to perceive Stage One cancers, therefore, early detection through health screenings will definitely make a huge difference.
4. Healthy lifestyles sometimes aren’t enough
Leading a healthy lifestyle is still important – eating well and exercising regularly can delay or prevent primary silent diseases and will also lower the risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. However, the risk of these diseases also stems from genetics and family history. It is possible for individuals who are lean, physically fit and on a low-cholesterol diet to develop any of these diseases. Therefore, regular screenings are recommended to keep the body in check. Genetics also come into play with cancers. For example, nasopharyngeal cancer is not a particularly common cancer in Singapore but Chinese men, especially those of Cantonese descent, tend to suffer from this disease. Doctors may advise these men to screen for nasopharyngeal cancer more thoroughly than for other individuals.
5. Screening targets specific health issues
Health screenings are not just for preventive care, they also help to address existing health issues. Should you find yourself developing chest pains or losing weight rapidly, a health screening can get to the root cause of the problem to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.
HEALTH SCREENING FAQS
When should you start screening your health?
This can be done as early as in your 20s, as some conditions, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, may be genetic and can occur then. Otherwise, the official age is 40.
What tests should you select?
The basic tests include checking for cholesterol and sugar levels as well as blood count tests, which are especially important for women, as they are more prone to anaemia. Women are also advised to consider getting a thyroid scan, since thyroid cancer is common amongst women. Additional tests, like kidney and liver function tests, may be necessary if you have pre-existing conditions or other risk factors.
What happens after you get a health screening, especially if you receive abnormal results?
Often, abnormal results can be addressed through a lifestyle change, such as cutting down on fatty foods or alcohol consumption if you have high cholesterol levels. However, if this does not work, or the lifestyle change is unsustainable, then supplements, such as fish oil, or even medication, will be prescribed.
How should you prepare for a health screening if you are taking medicine for a chronic condition?
You should continue taking your medication, but avoid taking diabetic medication when fasting for a screening, as you may become hypoglycemic. Additionally, if you are taking a treadmill ECG, then you should also avoid taking beta-blocker medication, as that lowers the heartbeat, which could affect the test results.