Routine Medical Check-ups – why they are important?

Jan 26, 2018,

Globally, there is an increasing trend of non-communicable disease to a proportion that draws public health intervention. The socio-economic burden of managing these chronic illnesses presents a huge challenge to government of nations. However, the good news is that a good number of these diseases can be prevented by routine medical checkup or screening and early detection.

Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better. By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life. 

Your annual check-up would usually consist of complete physical examination which will include your biophysical profile like weight and BMI, vital signs check, thorough physical exam including breast exam for females. Men aged 45 years and above may also have a prostate exam. Your doctor may recommend some laboratory tests based on findings made. You may be asked to check your blood sugar, run a blood chemistry panel, a lipid profile (cholesterol profile) and Urinalysis.

Specific routine checks and recommendations

Breast Cancer screening

Breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women in Nigeria. Due to the underlying genetic basis of breast cancer, the most effective preventive method is by early detection through advocacy for regular self-breast exam, clinical breast exam, and mammographic screening. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women with average risks (history of first degree relative with breast cancer, suspected or confirmed breast cancer genetic changes) are required to have mammographic screening every year.

Cervical Cancer screening

Cancer of the cervix is the second most common cancer among women in Nigeria. Cervical cancer is preventable with vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), screening and early detection. Women aged 21-65yrs are advised to have a cytology test (Pap smear) and/or HPV testing done once every five years. If you have done this and you have a negative result, you should get the HPV vaccine (talk to your care provider about how to get the vaccine. You still need to continue regular screening until age 65 because there are HPV strains that can cause cervical cancer which may not be covered by the vaccine you took.

Cholesterol Profile (lipid profile)

This assesses the level of cholesterol and triglyceride in your blood. A high amount of cholesterol and triglyceride in your blood increases your risk of developing heart diseases, strokes and other vascular diseases associated with deposition of ‘plaques’ in your blood vessels. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20years or older have a cholesterol check at least once every five years. Adult aged 50 and above or who have other risk of developing heart diseases like hypertension or diabetes are required to check more often, at least once in 2years.

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Although a disease that is common in developed countries, cancer of the rectum and colon also affects Africans at a much lower magnitude. Some of the points highlighted as protective factors for Africans include the rarity of a genetic condition called adenomatous polyposis syndromes, high fiber dietary intake, and low consumption of animal protein (especially red meat) compared with developed countries. Still, it is recommended that African adult aged 50years and above gets screened at least once in 5yrs. Therefore, as we progress on our journey to becoming a developed nation, let us not forget to carry along with us our native fiber rich diet.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is a disease that has drawn global public health attention as a subtle, but deadly and debilitating chronic disease. Hypertension causes myriads of complications including heart diseases, strokes, and kidney failures. Unfortunately, being black is sort of a major genetic risk factor. When you couple that with sedentary life style, unhealthy dietary habits, and a depressingly harsh socio-economic environment, you get a very high risk of developing hypertension. The true incidence of hypertension, and its complications, far exceeds what has been captured by research and statistics in Nigeria.  Adults aged 30 and above who are not previously hypertensive are recommended to check their blood pressure at least once every 6months.

HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis

HIV infection has become a global pandemic that spares no race or ethnicity even though it is absolutely preventable. The World Health Organization is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that this global trend is halted, and reversed. Every individual must therefore join to fulfil this global vision by avoiding multiple sexual partners, be sure that your partner does not have other sexual partners, practice safe sex always, and (if you are true to the points above) regular screening at least once every five years.

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- Breast Cancer Screening for Women at Average Risk2015 Guideline Update From the American Cancer Society Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD1; Elizabeth T. H. Fontham, MPH, DrPH2; Ruth Etzioni, PhD3; et al

- JAMA. 2015;314(15):1599-1614. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.12783

- Colorectal Carcinoma: Why Is There a Lower Incidence in Nigerians When Compared to Caucasians? David Omoareghan Irabor. Surgery Department, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, PMB 5116, Oyo State, Nigeria

- Blood pressure lowering for prevention of cardiovascular disease and death: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

- Ettehad D1, Emdin CA1, Kiran A1, Anderson SG2, Callender T3, Emberson J4, Chalmers J5, Rodgers A5, Rahimi K6.

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