Health checks you need to do this year

Black family,  and consulting doctor in hospital. PHOTO| Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), at least one billion people have a near or long distance impairment that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.
  • WHO states that oral diseases are among the most common non-communicable diseases worldwide, and affect 3.5 billion people.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children should have routine yearly examinations until they reach the age of 21.

Depending on your child’s age, they will need different check-ups. From birth, children are screened two weeks after, and then monthly for weight checks.
Other children should undertake yearly check-ups to ensure that any health issues are identified early when treatment is most effective. 
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children should have routine yearly examinations until they reach the age of 21.
These check-ups are recommended even when your child is not feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms.
Common screening tests among children include eye exams, vision screening and hearing screening, especially when a child has a suspected deficit.
Other tests include routine lab screening to check for sickle cell disease, screening for blood cholesterol to assess the child’s risk of future heart disease, dental check-up, haemoglobin blood test to check for anaemia, urinalysis to check for infections, kidney problems and diabetes.
For young children aged over one and under five, deworming should be done every six months.

1. Blood group/Rhesus factor
All blood consists of plasma, red and white blood cells and platelets. However, genes dictate the antigens that you have.
Blood types are classified as either A, B, AB or O depending on the antigen. Group A only has the A antigen on red cells  (and B antibody in the plasma). Group B only has the B antigen on red cells (and A antibody in the plasma). Group AB has both A and B antigens on red cells (but neither A nor B antibody in the plasma). Group O has neither A nor B antigens on red cells (but both A and B antibody are in the plasma).
It is important for you to know your blood type for the following reasons. The first is to get the right blood for transfusion in an emergency. If you need a blood transfusion following an accident, surgery or delivery, you will need blood that is compatible with yours. If you get the wrong blood, your immune system attacks the new blood cells and destroys them. 
To plan a healthy pregnancy, you need to know your blood type. Advent Heath states that, if an expectant mother has Rh-negative blood type and her baby is Rh-positive, it can lead to Rh incompatibility. If the mother’s blood comes into contact with the baby’s during pregnancy — which is rare — it could trigger the mother’s blood to produce antibodies that attack the baby’s blood, resulting in jaundice in the baby.
It adds that “if the mother’s blood type or Rh factor is different from her baby’s, she may receive an immunoglobulin shot, which helps prevent antibody production to keep mom and baby safe.”
Knowing one’s blood type can also help to mitigate health conditions. Advent Health states that some blood types have been linked to higher risks of some diseases, such as artery disease and heart diseases.
“Participants with type B had a 10 per cent higher risk of artery disease and type AB had a 23 per cent higher risk. People with type A blood were five per cent more likely to develop coronary artery disease than those with type O. Type O participants had the lowest risk of heart disease,” says Advent Health. 
It adds: “Thanks to research, it’s also known that people with type AB blood may have a higher risk of stroke. Type A blood is a risk factor for stomach cancer. Type 2 diabetes may not occur as often in people who have type O blood. Studies and statistics are always evolving, so it’s worthwhile to know your specific blood type and use credible medical resources to stay informed of news about your blood type.”

2. Prostate cancer screening
The American Cancer Society explains that prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland starts to grow out of control. The prostate gland, which only exists in males, contributes to some of the fluid that exists in semen.
Almost all prostate cancers develop from the gland cells, and even though some grow and spread quickly, most grow slowly. Catching cancer early, however, allows for more treatment options. It also allows medics to lower the number of people who die from the disease and to lower the number of people who develop the disease. 
To test for prostate cancer, two tests are performed. One is called the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. It measures the level of the PSA in the blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC), the levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. 
The second test is a physical examination, where a healthcare provider inserts a gloved lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for abnormalities.

3. Breast cancer
Breast cancer screening, just like screening for prostate cancer, is intended to help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women aged between 50 and 74 years old, who are at an average risk for breast cancer, get a mammogram (an X-ray of the breast) every two years.
“Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care provider about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50,” says USPSTF.
The American Cancer Society also recommends that women aged between 40 and 44 years should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening if they wish so. 
“Women aged 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer,” it adds.

4. Cervical cancer/ovarian and uterine cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends that screening for cervical cancer should begin at age 25. Those between this age group and 65, should get a primary human papillomavirus (HPV) test done every five years.
“People over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing in the past 10 years with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Once testing is stopped, it should not be started again. Those with a history of a serious cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested for at least 25 years after that diagnosis, even if testing goes past age 65,” says American Cancer Society. The society adds: “People whose cervix has been removed by surgery for reasons not related to cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer should not be tested. People who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening recommendations for their age groups.”
CDC explains that the Pap smear test and the HPV test may help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. While the Pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately, the HPV test looks for the HPV virus that can cause these cell changes.
“You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period. If you are going to have a test in the next two days, you should not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid), use a tampon, have sex, use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly, and you should not use a medicine or cream in your vagina. For ovarian cancer, which begins in the ovaries, and uterine cancer, which begins in the uterus, it may be hard to detect because symptoms often don’t show until when they are in later stages.
CDC notes that there is no reliable way to screen for ovarian and uterine cancers and that people should heed warning signs and find out what they can do to reduce their risks.
“If your healthcare provider suspects ovarian cancer, they’ll ask about your symptoms and check for any abnormal growths or enlarged organs in your pelvic region. If you have symptoms of uterine cancer, your doctor may perform an endometrial biopsy or a transvaginal ultrasound. These tests can be used to help diagnose or rule out uterine cancer,” says CDC.

5. Blood sugar
Blood sugar or glucose, is the sugar found in your blood, and comes from the food you eat. It is also the body’s main source of energy. Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar levels are too high.
Regular monitoring of blood sugar allows for managing type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that by monitoring your blood sugar, you will know what raises or lowers your blood sugar, and work on the best care plan.
To test your blood sugar, you can use a device called a continuous glucose monitor or at home with a portable electronic device called blood sugar meter using a drop of blood. Blood testing also allows you to track your progress in attaining your treatment goals, as well as learning how diet and exercise, illness and stress may affect your sugar levels. 

6. Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that one can get from engaging in unprotected sexual contact with an infected person. Getting tested is important because you may have an infection without experiencing its symptoms. Reasons to get this test may include- a routine sexual health check, if you and your partner are beginning a sexual relationship, if you are having unprotected sex, if you think you have an infection, if you are pregnant, if your condom broke. Marie Stopes Kenya states that early detection may help successfully treat STIs, to prevent negative outcomes such as infertility. Depending on the infection, women and men are advised to test periodically.

7. Optical
According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), at least one billion people have a near or long distance impairment that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed.
“Cataracts and uncorrected refractive errors are estimated to be the leading causes of vision impairment; however, other causes for vision impairment cannot be ignored. Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, long standing systemic conditions like diabetes causing diabetic retinopathy, infectious diseases of the eye and trauma to the eye are all equally important causes for vision impairment that need to be addressed,” says WHO.
“In the absence of timely detection, reduced or absent eyesight can have long-term personal and economic effects. Vision impairment affects people of all ages, with the majority being over the age of 50. Young children with early onset severe vision impairment can experience lower levels of educational achievement, and in adults it often affects quality of life through lower productivity, decreased workforce participation and high rates of depression,” adds WHO.
Eye examinations are important because it allows for doctors to detect eye conditions that can lead to sight loss. Some conditions, explains Optometrists Network do not show obvious symptoms, and so annual examinations help detect them.
Tests may include preliminary ones to establish colour vision, eye muscle movement, depth perception and peripheral vision, visual acuity tests, optical prescription, eye focusing, digital retinal image and eye pressure tests.

8. Dental
WHO states that oral diseases are among the most common non-communicable diseases worldwide, and affect 3.5 billion people? These diseases include dental caries, gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer (cancers of the lip, other parts of the mouth and oropharynx), oro-dental trauma noma and birth defects such as cleft palate.
WHO also notes that oral diseases mostly affect those who are vulnerable in a community, from early childhood to older age, regardless of the overall income of a country?
For good oral health, adults are advised to visit the dentist at least once a year. This will ensure that oral cancer is detected early, that buildup of plaque, tartar is removed and cavities from areas in the mouth that may miss by regular brushing are addressed. Checkups will also help detect gum disease, and one also gets education on proper dental hygiene.
Delta Dental advises high risk groups to see the dentist more frequently, as oral health issues are more likely to arise. They include smokers, pregnant women, people with medical conditions such as diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, head and neck cancers, HIV/AIDS, and others and people with current gum disease. People with a weak immune response to bacterial infection, those who have a high tendency to get cavities or build up plaque, older adults and people who suffer from dry mouth are also advised to see a dentist frequently.

9. Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver, and is needed for making cell walls, tissues, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acid in the body. However, high levels can lead to build up of fat and other substances, forming deposits called plaque in the blood and in blood vessels. The plaque can block or make the arteries narrow thus increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart conditions.
Testing for cholesterol levels enables a person to know if they are at risk of developing heart disease and treatment options. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, the doctor may recommend treatment to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults should have their cholesterol tested every four to six months beginning at 20 years. This testing should then be continued depending on the associated risk of getting a stroke or heart attack. Post 40 years old, a person’s risk may necessitate more frequent testing.
“People with a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, anyone who had high cholesterol levels in a previous test, people with type 2 diabetes, individuals with excess body weight, those with reduced mobility or low physical activity levels, people whose diet is high in saturated and trans fats and people who smoke have an increased risk of developing high cholesterol and may need additional testing,” says AHA.
“The risk of high cholesterol increases with age. Up to the age of 55 years, females typically have lower cholesterol levels than males on average, but their levels may increase after menopause. Children should also undergo cholesterol tests. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend testing a child’s cholesterol levels once at age 9–11 years and again between the ages of 17 and 21 years,” says AHA.

10. Colorectal cancer screening
Colorectal cancer, a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum grow out of control, and is the third most common cancer in the US. Even though the cause is unclear, it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to it.
The American College of Physicians recommends that people who have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, black Americans aged 45 and over, and people who have Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome, or adenomatous polyposis should get screened for the disease regularly.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) however, recommends that adults aged between 45 and 75 be screened for the condition/ made on an individual basis. Those older than 75 are advised to consult their doctors about screening.
The nature of the tests used is dependent on a person’s preferences, medical conditions, personal or family history, existence of genetic syndromes and resources available.
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