Health check-ups or MOTs for human engines

By DR THOMAS KAISER [email protected]

Dr Thomas Kaiser is the Medical Director of the Vale do Lobo Medical Centre and is a specialist in good traditional General Practice for the whole family, state of the art aesthetic and cosmetic medicine.

Have you ever compared the amount of money you spend on the maintenance of your car and the sums you spend on having your own ‘engine’ checked? I would dare to say that, with most people, the balance is very much in favour of the car. I would also go as far as to say that the priorities are not set right here.

Don’t worry – it is normal for human beings to act only when a problem has occurred. We are not very good at trying to prevent things from going wrong. That explains a lot of past and present difficulties and crises on this planet.

It seems fashionable these days to go for total body scans. I am often consulted about these procedures because they frequently raise a lot of questions and have to be followed up by more tests.

I don’t think you need to spend huge sums of money and have your whole body scanned to keep a check on the important parts of your body.

What makes a good health check-up?

1. Doctors make 80 per cent of correct diagnoses by doing a detailed history. You should expect that the doctor who does the check-up asks you a lot of questions.

2. Many illnesses have a strong genetic component. Your doctor needs to know your detailed family medical history to guide you in the check-up.

3. The other important part to assess your risk for certain diseases is your lifestyle. Inform your doctor about your work, hobbies, social life, bad habits like smoking, drinking and other factors that could be relevant, such as trips to Africa and Asia.

4. Make sure you mention all your concerns to the doctor clearly and with brutal honesty, even if they seem trivial or cause you embarrassment. These symptoms could be very important to determine what tests to carry out.

5. Be precise with the description of your possible symptoms and signs and always write down all medication and supplements you may be taking and make sure you inform the doctor about your allergies and intolerances.

The basic check-up

A basic check-up consists of a good history, thorough physical examination, blood, urine and stool tests. The same scenario applies for women but if you are under 40 years of age, a gynaecological check with smear and pelvic ultrasound will also be carried out.

In depth health check-ups are recommended for the 40 plus age group.

Here you should expect to have an ECG, stress test, lung function test, ultrasound of abdomen and pelvis and other tests according to your risk profile.

If colon cancer is common in your family, you need to have three to five yearly colonoscopies. If your mother or grandmother suffered from breast cancer, you should be checked for the breast cancer genes and have more frequent mammograms and ultrasounds.

A check-up should be done every year. Once a thorough first test is carried out, the following tests often can be less extensive.

Health action plan

The health check should enable you to act preventively to avoid illnesses from occurring or to at least treat them in a very early stage. There is no point doing lots of tests if you are not able or prepared to do something about the results.

Therefore, your doctor should outline for you where your risks are and what exactly you can do to reduce or eliminate those health risks. He/she plays an important part in assisting you following the agreed plan of action through, e.g. to stop smoking, to eat healthily, to laugh more and take up exercise.

In the Health Action Plan, your doctor should put his/her ‘health coach’ hat on.

I am a great believer in patient held records and you can certainly expect to get your own copy with all the results of the check-up.

Dear reader, prevention is better than cure. Make that important appointment with your doctor now.