Health checks are completed by a doctor, usually a general practitioner (GP) or family physician, to detect a common, treatable, and potentially serious health condition. Getting a health check is important for all Australian adults as many health conditions have only mild or no symptoms, which means that even though you are feeling well you still may be harbouring a serious disease or other.
How Often Should You Have a Health Check?
I recommend all Australian adults have a health check at least every second year from the age of 18 years. A health check may comprise of the some of following depending on if you have any symptoms, your past medical history, and your family medical history:
- Blood pressure screening
- Blood testing – looking for nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, thyroid conditions, liver and kidney conditions, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Cancer screening – for example skin checks to detect skin cancers, Pap tests every two years for women to detect cervical cancer, breast examinations at any age for women as well as a mammogram in those older than 40 years to detect breast cancer, bowel cancer screening, and prostate and testicular cancer screening for men.
- Heart screening – this might include an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check your heart rhythm and heart health. This might also include a referral for an exercise stress test to ensure you are not at risk of a heart attack.
- Lung screening – this might include a spirometry lung function test to rule out asthma and/or other lung condition. It may also include a referral for a chest X-ray, especially in smokers, to rule out cancer or other conditions.
- Eye screening – traditionally undertaken by an optometrist to check eye health.
- Genetic screening – there are situations where genetic screening is undertaken to determine your genetic risk for a disease. This is often done in consultation with a genetic counsellor, especially where the condition has serious implications for your health or that of your family.
Where Do You Go to Get A Health Check?
Your local general practitioner is the best person to see to organise having a comprehensive health check. In some cities there are also specialised women’s and men’s health clinics that undertake health screening. If you have already had a recent health check but find that you have one or more of the health warning signs listed below under the heading ‘Watch Out for Health Warning Signs’do consult with your health practitioner sooner rather than later. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to ignoring health warning signs. I have personally seen the devastating consequences of those individuals who had been exhibiting some significant health warning signs but had put off seeing me as their practitioner until it was too late.
Will A Health Check Be Painful?
Many people feel uncomfortable seeing a doctor sometimes due to negative past experiences or because they are afraid of what the doctor may or may not find. Consider that doctors are human too and in general we want to be compassionate to your situation and your health concerns. We as a rule do not like to inflict unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment, or unease onto our patients. Unfortunately, though, sometimes having to undertake necessary health checks can be uncomfortable; albeit tolerable. In reality, we are so fortunate to be given access to inexpensive, high quality medical care. There are many individuals in less opportune circumstances that would greatly appreciate equivalent care. Perhaps keeping this in mind will help us to take the steps needed to make sure our health is in check. We really do owe it to ourselves and our families.
Watch Out for Health Warning Signs
Basically, if you notice anything unusual in your body or you are concerned about anything go and see your health practitioner for their advice. Try to avoid the temptation to consult ‘Doctor Google’. More times than not you will end up confused and unnecessarily concerned by what you read on the internet. Your health practitioner is the best person to diagnose your health condition. If you feel that symptoms persist despite advice you have been given please go back and see your health practitioner who will no doubt undertake further investigations to uncover the root cause. If you still feel that symptoms persist seek a second opinion. There is no harm in doing so and, as a health practitioner myself, I can honestly say we are not offended by this.
There are, however, some common health warning signs to look out for and these include:
- Sweating for no reason at night time
- Losing weight for no reason
- Unexplained easy bruising
- Chest pains or discomfort especially pain that radiates to your jaw or down your left arm
- Any unexplained vaginal or rectal bleeding
- Constant fatigue
- Feelings of consistently low mood or suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing, vomiting, or urinating blood
- A lump that you have discovered
- A new mole or freckle or a change in an existing mole or freckle
- Recurrent infections
- Severe, consistent or recurrent pain anywhere in your body
- Difficulty sleeping
If you have any of these symptoms do consult with your health practitioner as soon as possible. Although relatively benign conditions can also present with the above signs and symptoms they can also be a warning sign of something more serious.