It’s beginning of the year, and for those with private medical aid, the medical savings accounts are replenished.
It’s the perfect time to make your health a priority, and that doesn’t just mean an extreme resolution to eat zero carbohydrates and go for a run every day. Keeping on top of health checks and screenings every year could prevent serious illness later on, or catch it before it threatens your life.
It’s easy and cheap - or even free - to do the basic screenings that will give you an indication of your risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA recommends getting your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure tested, as well as measuring your weight and waist circumference.
“It is extremely important to know these crucial numbers because some of them are considered “silent killers”, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, where there are rarely any symptoms to warn you that it is high,” the foundation warned.
“All adults should, therefore, have this health check done once a year, or more often if recommended by a doctor.”
If you have children, this is a great time of year to check that they are up to date on all their vaccinations.
When it comes to cancer, there are some checks you can and should do at home every month by yourself, such as examining your own breasts or testicles for lumps, and examining your skin for any new moles or changes in the appearance of old ones.
According to Cansa, women 40 years and older should go for a mammogram every year to screen for breast cancer, which is the leading type of cancer in South African women.
“Mammograms (a special X-ray to detect lumps in the breast) do not prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible,” the Cansa website explains.
If you’re sexually active and have a cervix, schedule a pap smear.
Local gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Martin Puzey said that all women should get regular pap smears as soon as they become sexually active.
“After your first test, get another one a year later. Then, if both show results that are normal, you can then get tested once every two to three years.”
For men, prostate and testicular cancer is a concern. Cansa said many men are diagnosed too late because they are not aware of the early warning signs for cancer.
“Men need to be proactive about their health. We encourage monthly testicular self-examinations, annual medical check-ups and cancer screening for early detection, as symptoms don’t always present until cancer has spread,” the Cansa website reads.
Finally, it may seem trivial next to checks for cardiovascular disease and cancer, but don’t neglect your pearly whites. A trip to the dentist or oral hygienist for a thorough cleaning can help keep your teeth in good condition for years to come, and can also pick up problems as early as possible.
Dentist Dr Andries Taljaard recommends twice-yearly visits for a professional clean.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, remember to put an annual eye exam on your health to-do list, too. Optometrists recommend that adults get their eyes tested every one to two years.