5 important health checks to get done this January

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A patient gets a pap smear to test for cervical cancer.
A patient gets a pap smear to test for cervical cancer.
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At the start of every new year, people set goals and make resolutions.

However, health check-ups hardly ever make it onto the to-do list for the year. Doctors argue that medical check-ups should be top priority.

These include testing for HIV, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes.

WHY YOU SHOULD GET TESTED

It is important to go for regular check-ups in order to know what illnesses you have and to find out how to manage them, Dr Sophia Mokoka from Pretoria tells Drum's sister publication Move!

“Regular check-ups and tests are of great importance because knowing your health status means you can take better care of yourself,” she says.

“One of the benefits of testing or going for regular check-ups is that doctors can detect some illnesses early and intervene before they do any damage or cause any complications in your body.

“However, testing does not eliminate the disease and is not a cure. It helps you to better care for yourself and continue living healthy. It should be an ongoing process.”

A new year means (hopefully) a healthier balance in your medical aid day-to-day savings. As the year progresses, there's so much that we put off when it comes to our health – prescription glasses, dental check-ups, orthodontics  . . . it never feels like we're done forking out thousands in medical bills.

While the temptation may be great to put off getting those new glasses or braces, you should try resist the urge to put off these five tests as they can be potentially life-saving.

1) HIV TESTING

With vaginal rings, condoms and antiretroviral drugs now more widely available than before, South Africa is making some headway in winning the battle against HIV.

It is vital that you prevent reinfection and protect yourself from contracting the virus.

According to Dr Sophia, testing for HIV and discovering you are HIV negative does not mean you can have multiple partners, not use a condom or be reckless.

“You should still continue to take care of yourself and use protection. Testing should be done ideally every three months because of the window period, which is the period where there are new infections of the virus which can test negative in the early stages of detection. Testing regularly will give an accurate HIV status,” Dr Sophia tells Move!.

There is a myth that if you have contracted HIV or you and your partner are both HIV-positive you need not use a condom. Dr Sophia says this is not true. Those living with HIV should always use condoms to prevent reinfection of the virus.

2) TEST FOR CANCER

Testing for illnesses such as cancer much later can be dangerous. Your cancer could be detected at stage four, where there is not much that can be done by doctors. So, the earlier you have it checked, the better.

Dr Sophia says, “There are a lot of cancers in your blood. We check the level of the enzyme in your blood. Sometimes it’s high and can be suggestive of a cancer or it can be a condition that older men can get called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), where the prostate gland enlarges. Every man between the ages of 40and 50 should get checked out.”

With breast cancer, every woman should do a self-examination regularly and mammogram at the age of 40. If you are younger than the age of 40, Dr Sophia says the mammogram is not sensitive and will not be able to rule out breast cancer.

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Other cancers such as ovarian cancer and colon cancer can be inherited from your family and that is why doctors always ask patients with cancer if there is a history of cancer in the family. Dr Sophia says if there is a history of cancer in your family, you should get tested.

“I also recommend that you get tested for the BRCA gene. If you test positive for it, you are at a predisposition for breast and ovarian cancers. If you have tested once for this type of cancer that is enough, it’s not something you need to test frequently for,” she says.

3) HAVING A PAP SMEAR

A pap smear is a test used to screen for cervical cancer. Dr Sophia says according to government, from the age of 30 every woman should have a pap smear every 10 years, but in the private sector you can have it every three years.

Women in their 20s can also get cervical cancer. The older you get, the more the chances of developing cervical cancer. According to Dr Francois Lubbe from Joburg, it is important to look out for problems in your private part, just as it is important to have an annual pap smear. This is why a thorough pap smear will include inspection of the vulva.

4) TEST FOR DIABETES

You should consider testing for diabetes, especially if you are in your 40s. Diabetes can affect your well-being and even more so your sex life. The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can manage it and live a good life.

“Being a diabetic is a health challenge that often spills over to other areas of your life, with sexual functioning and pleasure being one of them. In women, high blood glucose can lead to frequent vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections,” Pretoria-based sexologist Dr Christa Coetzee tells Move!

High blood pressure can also damage blood circulation, leading to the same arousal and orgasm problems as high blood glucose. The implication for women is a negative impact on sexual response and vaginal lubrication. The implication for men could be erectile dysfunction or other ejaculation problems.

5) TEST FOR OTHER SEXUALLYTRANSMITTED INFECTIONS

HIV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in South Africa, but it is not the only one that you need to test for.

Get tested for these as well:

  • Gonorrhoea

Health24 says gonorrhoea is among the most common STIs treated at South African clinics. It affects between 38 to 68%of patients.

It's symptoms include a burning sensation when you urinate; a thick and yellowish discharge that smells; and bleeding between periods.

Because women get discharges for various reasons, which are not always a result of sexual infection, it’s advisable to consult a doctor if you have a persistent discharge.

  • Chlamydia

This disease is also regarded as silent as it doesn’t always show symptoms.

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But when it does, the symptoms imitate those of gonorrhoea.

  • Syphilis

Signs of infection include small and painless sores, hair loss, headaches, fatigue and fever.

  • Hepatitis B

This is a group of hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver.

It’s transmitted through fluids during unprotected sexual intercourse. Pregnant women can also pass it on to their children.

The signs of this sexually transmitted infection are nausea, diarrhoea, jaundice and flu-like illness.

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