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Your guide to general health check-ups

13 May, 2016
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Keeping on track of your health starts with you. By establishing good health habits early, you stand the best chance at leading a longer, healthier and happier life. Healthy habits include: 

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet and limiting stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine.
  • Looking after your emotional health and wellbeing by finding time to relax every day.
  • Exercising for the recommended 150 minutes a week (moderate) or 75 minutes a week (vigorous).
  • Getting a good night’s rest whenever possible (7-9 hours).
  • Limiting pressure on your back and joints and focusing on good posture. 

You should also ensure that you get regular health checks, particularly as you age. 

What is a health check?

A health check is an examination of your current state of health, often carried out by your GP. Throughout life, it is recommended that you carry out a series of health checks to ensure you are on the right track to good health, and as we become more vulnerable to illness the older we get, health checks become vitally important during the later years. 

Why are health checks important?

The aim of a health check is to help find, prevent or lessen the effect of health issues. Essentially, it’s like getting your car serviced before it breaks down. Why wait until something goes wrong to take action?

By finding problems early, your chances for treatment and cure are always better. If you have a predisposition to a certain problem, your doctor will be able to offer you practical advice on limiting the risks.

Remember:

  • Prevention is always better than cure;
  • Prevention cuts the cost of healthcare;
  • One irregularity can affect your overall health. 

How to have a health check

Ideally, you want to acquire your regular health checks with the same doctor or practice. This way you will build a relationship over time and will feel more comfortable talking openly. Also, your doctor will get to know you and understand your health needs and concerns, and by having a regular doctor or practice, your medical history stays in one place and is more likely to be kept up-to-date. 

What does a health check involve?

A health check generally involves:

  • Updating your medical history and examining your health issues;
  • Performing tests if required;
  • A follow up of any problems identified;
  • Advice and information on how to improve health. 

What health checks do you need?

Different health checks are required for different stages of your life, and are also dependant on sex. Knowing what you are due for will help ensure you schedule a health check at the right time in your life. 

For women

Preconception and pregnancy

Pregnancy is a major life event and places many demands on a woman’s body. The preconception period is generally considered to be the three months prior to pregnancy and is an ideal time to undergo health checks such as: 

  • Pap test: Pap test screening is recommended every two years for women aged 18 years or two years after first having sexual intercourse - whichever comes first. The test can detect changes to cells in the cervix before they develop into cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV);
  • Dental check: Regular dental checks are important because poor dental health not only affects our teeth and gums, but can also lead to problems like malnutrition and infections in other parts of the body. As X-rays are not recommended during pregnancy, a dental check before pregnancy is a good idea;
  • Immunisation check: If you don’t know when you last had the necessary immunisations, a simple blood test can reveal whether you have immunity to infections that may be harmful to a pregnancy such as rubella, varicella and influenza;
  • General health: Assessing your general health will establish whether or not you are in the best stead for carrying a baby and withstanding pregnancy. A full blood count for example will determine your levels of iron and folate - both crucial for a healthy pregnancy;
  • Pregnancy checks: Once pregnant, several different health checks become available, so talk to your GP or healthcare nurse. 

STI screening

If you are sexually active with more than one partner, have a urine test for chlamydia each year, as chlamydia can affect your fertility and often has no symptoms. If you have sex with one or more new partners without a condom, it is recommended you talk to your doctor about checking for other sexually transmittable diseases.

Heart health

From the age of 18, women should have their blood pressure checked every two years to detect if blood pressure is on the high or low side. This is especially important if you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart disease. 

Once over 45, you should also check your cholesterol levels and triglycerides. High levels may indicate an increased risk of heart disease. 

Weight check

Being overweight is a significant risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years if you are worried.

Diabetes check

Depending on your risk level, you should be tested for diabetes every one to three years. This is especially true if you are:

  • Aged 45 years + and obese (BMI over 30);
  • Had gestational diabetes during pregnancy;
  • Have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS);
  • Have a family history of diabetes;
  • Are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander aged over 35 years;
  • Belong to a certain ethnic group including Pacific Islander or Sri Lankan. 

Breast cancer check

If you notice any changes in your breast, you should visit your doctor within a week no matter your age or family history. For women aged between 50 and 74 years, a breast cancer screening mammogram should be carried out every two years. If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, your doctor will decide how often you should be screened.

Eye checks

Once you reach the age of 50, you should aim to have a general eye exam every two years, however, this should be brought forward to ages 40+ if you have family history of glaucoma, diabetes, prior eye injury, high blood pressure or use steroids.

Once over 65 years, you should aim to have your eyes tested every year. 

Bowel cancer

Once over 50 years, women should undergo a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years to detect any signs of bowel cancer. This can be done in the privacy of your own home using a bowel testing kit. Call Bowel Cancer Australia on 1800 555 494 to get yours. 

Bone density check

For women over 70 years of age, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is a common problem. Bone density testing is important if you have a stooped posture, family history of osteoporosis or a previous fracture not caused by a fall or major trauma. 

For men

Skin check

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, however, current Australian guidelines advise against general population screening citing lack of evidence for the feasibility of organised screening and the effectiveness of screening in reducing mortality.

That said, many patients self-select for skin cancer screening with their GP, a skin cancer clinic or a dermatologist and if you notice unusual moles or freckles talk to your doctor. Men are particularly at risk, with many men working outdoors for long periods in the sun.

Heart health

From the age of 40, men should have their blood pressure checked yearly, especially if you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. You should also have your cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides tested every five years.

If you are aged over 50, your doctor may recommend an ECG test every two to five years, depending on your medical history. 

Weight check

Being overweight is a significant risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years if you are worried.

Diabetes check

Depending on your risk level, you will need to be tested for diabetes every one to three years. This is especially true if you:

  • Have a family history of diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a history of angina;
  • Are overweight or obese;
  • Smoke;
  • Have a sedentary lifestyle;
  • Are aged 45 and over;
  • Are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander aged over 35 years;
  • Belong to a certain ethnic group including Pacific Islander or Sri Lankan.

Prostate check

If you’re over 50 or have a close relative who has had prostate cancer, you should discuss prostate cancer screening with your doctor. Your doctor may suggest an annual screening blood test called a PSA.  Depending on the results of the blood test and your medical history, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further tests.

Bowel check

From the age of 50, men should undergo a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years. This can be done in the privacy of your own home using a bowel cancer screening test. Men at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy every five years.

This can be done in the privacy of your own home using a bowel testing kit. Call Bowel Cancer Australia on 1800 555 494 to get yours. 

Testicle checks 

From puberty onwards, check yourself regularly for any unusual thickenings or lumps in the testicles. If you notice anything strange, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

STI Screening

If you are sexually active with more than one partner, speak with your doctor about STI checks.

Eye checks

Men who don’t wear prescription glasses or contact lenses should have their eyes tested every two to three years, however if you already wear glasses, you should have them tested annually. Men over 60 should have their eyes tested yearly regardless, as eyesight deteriorates with age.

Bone density check

For men over 60 years of age, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is a common problem. Bone density testing is important if you have a stooped posture, family history of osteoporosis or a previous fracture not caused by a fall or major trauma. 

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Disclaimer

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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