We all worry about the health of our children, but often give little thought to our own. It’s important to make sure we keep an eye on our wellbeing too by having these health checks.
Here is a list of tests that parents should be having to spot health problems early. These are guidelines only. If you experience any worrying symptoms seek advice from your doctor.
Moms and dads
Blood pressure can fall into several categories: lower than 120/80 is optimal; 120/80 to 140/90 is pre-hypertensive; and above 140/90 is classified as high blood pressure. High blood pressure (or hypertension) can lead to an increased risk of heart disease or a stroke. Most people don’t experience symptoms of high blood pressure, so have your blood pressure tested every three to five years. Risk factors include a family history of heart problems and diabetes. Lifestyle factors include drinking excessive amounts of coffee or alcohol, and not exercising.
Low blood pressure (or hypotension) is not usually a problem, unless it is so low that not enough blood is getting to your organs. Symptoms include dizziness and feeling faint.
We lose bone density as we age. Bones become brittle and fragile. Osteoporosis, a disease found in both men and women, is characterised by loss of bone mass and increased fragility. The first sign is usually a fracture after minimal trauma, which often happens between 50 and 70 years of age, although it can happen at 30 or younger. It is advisable to go for testing if you are at risk.
Our bodies produce cholesterol which is used to make vitamin D and build cell walls. It is also found in certain foods, such as eggs, dairy products and meats. While the body does use some cholesterol, the excess can gather on artery walls, which may lead to heart problems.
Check cholesterol levels every five years. You will have to do more tests if you have high cholesterol, or if there are high-risk factors. These include age, a family history of high cholesterol, smoking and high blood pressure.
glucose and diabetes
High glucose and blood-sugar levels can be dangerous, so those at risk should be tested every one to two years. If blood glucose levels are normal, then testing can be done every three years. You should get tested if you are overweight and have other risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or you have suffered from gestational diabetes. Test those with a family history of diabetes from their 20s. Those who don’t exercise are also at risk.
In South Africa’s climate, it is essential for everyone to conduct regular skin checks, and to take note of new and changing moles. Fair-skinned people and those with a personal or family history of skin cancer, have suffered severe sunburn or have more than 50 moles, are at risk. A mole that gets bigger, changes colour or becomes painful should be checked by a doctor.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow into tumours. Symptoms of breast cancer include a change in the shape, size or colour of the nipple or breast, discharge from the nipples, puckering of the skin, a lump or swelling, or pain in the breast or armpit. Breast cancer occurs predominantly in post-menopausal women. But younger women are also susceptible, and they should start checking their breasts regularly once they reach puberty.
Various strains of a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV) cause cancer of the cervix. HPV is transmitted sexually; most of the time the immune system will eradicate the virus itself. However, in some cases, the virus remains and over time has the potential to convert normal cervical cells into cancerous ones.
Cervical cancer often only manifests symptoms in its later stages. These symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during intercourse or after a pelvic exam, or bleeding after menopause. Early symptoms, such as unusual or odorous discharge, are rare, so do a pap smear to detect pre-cancerous and abnormal cells in the cervix.
testicular cancer screening
Encourage men to begin testing for cancer of the testicles from as early as the onset of puberty – being familiar with the normal testicle will help to identify unusual lumps or swelling if they develop. Risk factors include being between the ages of 15 and 40, having had an undescended testicle at birth, having a family history of testicular cancer and being HIV-positive. Symptoms include a lump in the testicle, the enlargement of one testicle, or of the breast area or nipples, and a heaviness in the testicles, scrotum or groin.
prostate cancer check
Older men are at risk of developing prostate cancer, and this risk increases with age, or if there is a family history of prostate cancer. CANSA therefore recommends that men start with being tested once a year at about age 50 (45 if they are at higher risk). The prostate is a small gland underneath the bladder, and once this becomes enlarged, the urine stream begins to slow. Other symptoms, according to Goad, include burning or pain at the tip of the penis, and a dull ache in the prostate. These symptoms often only become apparent in the later stages of the disease, so screening tests are advisable.
to maintain a healthy lifestyle in your 40s