I recorded this episode about an hour after having my biannual mammogram and ultrasound, and it prompted me to have a chat about looking after our health.
A big part of being connected with self is knowing what’s going on with our bodies and looking after ourselves from a medical perspective. Yes, it’s time-consuming, yes, it’s uncomfortable and yes, it can be expensive, but so is getting sick with cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, liver disease, and all the other diseases we can contract as we get older.
Did you know that while most women see a doctor at least once a year, men tend to go far less frequently, have shorter visits and often only to go when their illness is in its later stages. Presumably because by then the symptoms are too bad to continue ignoring!
As we get older, we should all be having an annual health check to help stay on top of things.
From the scary stats file, in Australia, one woman dies every hour of every day of every week of every year from heart disease. My mother died of heart disease when no one was expecting it, so it’s a subject that really resonates with me.
Another stat that really resonates is that around 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma every year and 1,500 Australians a year die from melanoma every year. It’s also the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15 to 39 years, killing more young Australians than any other cancer.
Some of you know I was diagnosed with a stage 2 melanoma almost 6 years ago, and I was incredibly lucky because it was a dodgy spot I noticed on my leg and I took action immediately. My surgeon later told me it was incredibly aggressive and if I hadn’t taken action immediately, I probably would have died within a year.
Having an annual check-up can identify early if you have symptoms that might lead to diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, glaucoma and many more. Finding out early can often save your life.
Most of us take our car for a service at least once a year, make sure you have your body serviced too. It can be a lot messier and more expensive to fix when things go wrong!
Depending on your age, and your personal and family history, these are the more common tests you should be considering – not everything needs to be checked every year, the frequency will depend on your personal health and your family history. This means you will need to have some things checked more frequently, some less.
What to get checked
- Blood pressure
- Blood tests for cholesterol, triglycerides and a fasting blood sugar test for diabetes.
- Urine tests for kidney health(once over 50).
- Sexual health– regular blood and urine checks for sexually transmitted diseases (including chlamydia) if you change partners.
- A complete skin check every year
- Breast checks – don’t forget to do a self-check once a month on yourself
- Mammogram and breast ultrasounds – Free mammograms are available every two years to all Australian women aged 40 and over who do not have any symptoms of breast disease. Around 75% of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and don’t think once you’re 70 you can stop – a friend who is 71 was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, picked up by an ultrasound.
- Pap smears – now called Cervical Screening Test and recommended for all women who are 25-74 years old who have ever been sexually active
- Testicular and prostate checks
- Stool samples for bowel cancer(for men and women over 50) – By 2020, all Australians aged 50-74 will be invited to screen every two years. If you are under 50 and have poos that aren’t normal for you or you are worried about your bowel movements, speak to your doctor about getting tested sooner than 50.
- Bone density (for women over 50) – there is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen during perimenopause and menopause and the development of osteoporosis. Women who undergo early menopause (before age 40) are particularly prone to osteoporosis.
- Hormone checks– these tell you what your rate of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is. Having an annual or two-yearly check will give you an indicator of where you are regarding menopause.
- Eye examination(every 2 years if you are under 65, every year if 65 or over) – eyesight tends to deteriorate with age and serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration are more common with age.
- Dental check-ups.
You also need to monitor your weight, as being overweight is also a significant risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
Let’s not forget mental health.
Did you know 1 in 5 Australian will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime? Quite often anxiety will present itself during perimenopause. Your GP or physician is an excellent person to see first when seeking professional mental health support. They can make a diagnosis, prescribe medication, draw up a Mental Health Care Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment and refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist if you need further support.
What to do after your health checks
Once you have had your health checks it’s important you understand the results and what they mean both short term and long term. Questions you should be asking are:
- What do the results mean?
- Do I need follow-up tests? When? How often? Make a diary note so you don’t forget
- Do I need to be taking medication? What will happen if I don’t?
- Do I need to see a specialist? What for? How quickly?
Also, always ask for a written copy of all your test results and keep them in a file in a safe place. You never know when you will need them, and you shouldn’t rely on your doctor to keep them for you. It can be really difficult to track down medical results from over 10 years ago when you have moved and so has your GP. Trust me, I’ve tried.
So look after your health – do self-checks of all the relevant parts (boobs, skin etc) and see your doctor for the relevant tests and the relevant ages.
When was the last time you had a complete checkup? If it’s been a while why not make an appointment today? And if it’s been awhile, you might want to ask for an extended consultation time so you can get through the list.
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