14 July 2010

The value of regular health examinations.

Has this ever happened to you? You take a bite out of a fresh, juicy apple only to find that the apple is rotten inside.

Just like the apple, you may be a picture of health, but are you really healthy? Many diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer often go undetected years before symptoms appear. To prevent these illnesses, early detection of risk factors is vital.

Health screens enable you to screen for early signs of disease. For example, a person with diabetes will have a raised blood sugar level long before the onset of symptoms such as thirst, weight loss, or non-healing wounds. Elevated blood cholesterol and triglycerides levels can be present years before the onset of heart disease and stroke.

Early detection of diseases via health screening will enable early treatment and a better control of the condition. Early treatment prevents the risk of serious complications if the condition is managed properly.

Do I need a health screen?

Health screening is highly recommended for people in the following categories:

·Have a family history of chronic diseases or conditions, e.g. if you have an immediate family member with a particular medical condition.

·If you lead a busy lifestyle or you’re 40 years or older.

A health screen will be able to provide you with the following useful information:

Baseline values

Health screening provides a set of baseline values at that point in time, and this can be compared with future tests. Baseline values represent a normal background level or an initial level of a measurable quantity and can be used for comparison with values representing response to an environmental stimulus or intervention.

Prevention of disease

Health screening can detect abnormalities or diseases which the person is not aware of and allow for further investigations, treatment, or preventive measures. For example, in women, a pap smear can be used to detect potentially precancerous lesions and prevent cervical cancer, and mammography can be used to detect breast cancer.

Lifestyle changes

With the information derived from health screening, you can respond accordingly to make the appropriate lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are a very effective way to substantially reduce health risks, but to make those changes, you first need to know if you are at risk. Knowledge gives you the power to take charge of your health.

Emotional and psychological factors

Despite the benefits of health screening, some people shun or delay health screenings due to fear of what they might discover. They will try to delay going for health screenings as long as possible because they do not want to face the stress and anxiety that comes with the knowledge of an illness.

For example, according to a study published in a US health and psychology journal, researchers found that some women who were in the category of higher risk of breast cancer may not attend regular screenings because they feared finding out they have the disease. The effect was pronounced in women who were less conscientious in their day to day affairs. Their rationale is that what they do not know cannot hurt them – true, but a health screen that detects early disease can help save a life.

Screening health

Apart from the routine physical examination that includes taking vital signs such as recording the body’s temperature, pulse rate (or heart rate), blood pressure and respiratory rate, the following are recommended to be undertaken in the annual health screening:

Blood test

Blood tests are undertaken through a laboratory analysis performed on a blood sample that is usually extracted from a vein in the arm using a needle, or via finger prick. It is used to determine physiological and biochemical states in the body and to check if there is any damage to any of the organs in the body, such as the kidneys and liver.

Some of the important information that can be obtained via a blood test are whether we have a complete or normal blood count, whether our thyroid hormone levels are normal, and how our LDL cholesterol compares to our HDL cholesterol level.

In addition, blood tests can also tell us about our glucose levels, which is vital for detection of diabetes. Early detection of diabetes can help prevent or delay damage to the heart, kidney, nerves, blood vessels, or eyes.

Urine examination

A urine examination can yield a great deal of useful information about a person’s metabolic functions and the functional integrity of some organs. It can also help to detect cancer and inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract. The examination should also be carried out for individuals who are at high risk of developing bladder cancer.

For those above 40


·Pap smear – for early detection of cervical cancer

·Mammography – for early detection of breast cancer

·Bone density test – a simple and painless procedure to check on bone loss.


·Digital rectal exam – to check for the possibility of prostate cancer

·Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test

Other tests that should be undertaken for both men and women in this age group include chest x-rays and electrocardiography (ECG). Chest x-rays are used to help diagnose conditions affecting the chest, its contents, and nearby structures. Pneumonia and congestive heart failure are very commonly diagnosed by chest x-rays. ECG, on the other hand, is used to detect whether a person has heart disease. This is recommended especially if the person has chest pains or palpitations.

Preparing for health screening

A fasting sample is required for a complete blood test profile and those that involve the following tests:

·Fasting blood glucose

·Fasting lipid profile (cholesterol and triglycerides)

Abstain from all food and drinks for at least 10-12 hours prior to the test. However, plain water is allowed.

No preparation is usually needed for other routine health screenings. The volume of blood taken is minimal, ranging from 2ml to 10ml depending on the type and number of tests.

Health screening plays an important role in preventive healthcare for a wide range of common, and not so common diseases. Frequently, data from health screenings also help to provide scientists with a way of measuring disease trends and the success of early treatment.

If you are unsure about which screening tests are best for you and how often you may need them, check with your healthcare provider.

Dr L.Y Kam is a wellness practitioner. This article is courtesy of Pathlab. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

This article was first published in www.thestar.com.my on 11 July 2010.