Just as a machine needs to be oiled, cleaned and maintained, the human body, too needs regular checks to ensure all organs and mechanisms are functioning well. A flaw could take just a split second to disrupt this orderly functioning, leading to illness like TB, diabetes, heart attacks, brain hemorrhages, even death in some cases. To keep a constant check on the body’s proper functioning, medical tests are necessary. A timely test can save you from any serious illness that may even endanger your life.

I am listing down some of the most essential tests that you need to undergo to keep yourself fit and healthy.This is essential for everyone however healthy you may think you are !

health checkup

Blood Pressure – Menace of the millennium

Menace of the millennium , that’s how Blood pressure has been termed by medical experts in one of the medical journals I was reading. Hyper tension has been found to affect more than 60 million Indians and most of them don’t even know it.

According to a survey conducted by the National Society for Prevention of Heart Disease and Rehabilitation, almost 16 % of the participants were hypertensive and most of them did not even know about it. And surprisingly even the ones who knew about it had neglected it. What most people do not realise is that untreated Blood pressure can result in a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and even death .

According to doctors If you have high blood pressure and don’t seek treatment , you may be shortening your life by as much as 20 years. Ironically of all the known ailments that can lead to premature death, high blood pressure is the easiest to control. A Blood pressure test measures the force applied against the wall of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. Since our blood pressure is continually changing depending on our activity, temperature, diet, emotional state, posture , physical state and any drugs you may be taking for other ailments.

Some facts about Blood pressure

1, Average blood pressure generally increases with age. For boys between the age of 14 – 20 the average is 118/72 and by the time he is 60 years of age it reaches 132 /80. For women the rise is marginally higher at 134/82. A slight increase is seen in many people depending on life style and other factors which is not a great cause for worry.

2, Hypertension is called a silent killer not showing any serious outward symptoms.. Since it produces no symptoms at all , many a times it can only be detected during a medical check- up for some other ailment.

3, Some of the symptoms one needs to look for are frequent headaches, increased fatigue, occasional dizziness, palpitations, insomnia, weakness and excessive blushing. Since these are common symptoms found in most people , they tend to get overlooked.

4, Doctors recommend that after the age of 35 regular blood pressures are a must , especially given the sedentary life style of the present day generation and food habits , both of which contribute to this.

5, When you go for a Blood pressure test don’t smoke, drink liquor or coffee at least half an hour before the test. Since a single reading may not be enough to draw proper conclusions , request and get at least two readings before concluding the actual measure of your blood pressure.

6, If you already have high blood pressure and are on medication, medical experts advice you to go for a regular check up every month for at least 3 consecutive days at the same time, in the same position , using the same instrument. This is not a difficult task if you are going to the same place for your regular check up since they too are aware of this fact.

7, Finally, you should be relaxed when you go for the test to get the correct reading. Any tension or stress can give a reading that is higher than what it actually is . Keep calm without indulging in any strenuous physical activity before taking the test.

Chest X Ray

I read somewhere that this is telling the inside story ! More importantly why do we need a chest X-ray? Because an X-ray is an excellent way to get an update on the inside story of your body. We all know about the pollution and filth that we need to encounter everyday and who knows there might be a dangerous infection sitting quietly behind your lungs. What is worse you might even find the beginnings of Tuberculosis.

When we take into account the fact that Delhi alone has more than 1.6 lakh TB patients, whereas in the entire country it is 3.8 million cases, according to medical statistics. When an X-ray is obtained , the film gives all the inside story. The shadow formed on the film also gives a doctor information about the heart – its size, shape and function. The X-ray also shows the blood vessels and bones.

In fact according one medical journal that I read the doctors recommend that you get your daily help and maid to undergo an X-Ray since she or he is working in your house. She or he may be suffering from hidden chest infections which they can pass on to you and your children who are more vulnerable. Be especially particular about this if your domestic help has a cough that seems to be chronic.

How often should one get oneself X-rayed?

If you lead a reasonably healthy life, and are not really prone to chest infections, it is sufficient that you get your chest X-rayed once every five years. Otherwise you may have to do this more often. Most health check packages come with chest X-ray as part of it. In fact it is a good idea to start doing this once you reach 40 and make it a practice to go in for a test every 4 or 5 years if you are healthy with no major health problems.

Electrocardiography or ECG – Your heart’s health chart

What is ECG? Instead of going into the medical terms and phrases in simple language ECG is a graph that shows the recording of the heart’s activity. This includes the rate, regularity of the heart beats as well as the size and the position of the chambers, any damage to the heart and effects of any strong drugs you may be taking, on your heart. Doctors recommend that all adults above 40 years of age should undergo this test as part of a routine examination.

Normally this test involves attaching electrodes to your body which records the heart beats through an instrument called electrocardiogram. If your heart beat is between 50 – 100 times per minute and is rhythmic and consistent , your ECG is normal. Any change in any of this could indicate heart disease. It is a painless test where electrodes are attached to the cheat and the wrists and you are required to remain still, may be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time during the procedure.

Sometimes the tests are performed while you are exercising or under minimal stress to monitor the changes in the heart. All the results get recorded on graph paper and the whole process takes only a few minutes.

An ECG is usually accurate, unless the electrodes are not properly cleaned or the leads are placed wrongly. One can safely assume that an ECG has very small margin of error. Preparing for the test There is no special preparation required for an ECG. It is completely painless and you can get it done at any time .There are also no restrictions with regard to food and intake of liquids. The only requirement at the time when you go in for the test is to remove all your jewelry and make a mention to your doctor of all the medications you are taking. ECG has no risks involved in spite of the procedure, making use of electricity. There is no risk of shock or any other negative impact.

( A point to remember here -  while exercising you should never over exert and you should be able to maintain a short conversation without being totally out of breath.)

Cholesterol Screening to rule out heart disease

This is something we get to hear a lot these days. Everyone around you seem to know the word cholesterol and when you ask them what it means they say it has to do with heart and blood pressure. They are partly right but it is good to know what Cholesterol really means.

Cholesterol is a waxy fat like substance that is very much needed in our system although people tend to discuss it as poison – so and so has Cholesterol ! The truth is that we cannot live without cholesterol. Cholesterol helps insulate our nerves and produces certain vital hormones. It is used by your liver to generate bile acids which help digest the food you eat.

However, what is important is the level of cholesterol – a high and block them level of cholesterol in the blood can build up in arteries and block them, so that no blood can get through ! When this happens, the cells below the blockage are starved of oxygen and die. If this occurs in the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart muscle, the heart has an attack. So, cholesterol level needs to be kept low to remain heart healthy !

A little more about Cholesterol

Since this is a very important issue that concerns everyone I am going into some more details in layman’s language that can be understood by everyone. Total Cholesterol is made up of two types of substances called lipids – High density ( High Density lipoprotein Cholesterol ) or HDL and low density ( Low density lipoprotein cholesterol ) or LDL. All that we need to know is that HDL is ‘ good ‘ cholesterol and LDL is known as ‘ bad ‘ cholesterol. So, in effect if you have a high LDL and a low HDL you are more at risk of heart disease.

Why a Cholesterol test is most essential ?

I am listing down some reasons below

1,These days women tend to worry about breast cancer but in truth heart disease kills more women than cancer does. Women get cardiovascular diseases as often as men do. Earlier there was a belief that women were not as prone to heart disease as men ( there was also a joke going round – the risk is less because women have no heart , which has now been proved wrong !) The only difference is that in women it happens later in life with advancing age.

2, With age LDL ( bad cholesterol) increases although medical experts are still not sure why this happens. It could be due to factors like increase in body weight, a more relaxed life style, less activity or a combination of all these factors.

3, Our gender too affects cholesterol levels. Until 45 years of age men tend to have higher cholesterol levels with women having higher levels of HDL ( good cholesterol). However, after menopause , women’s total cholesterol level rises and the protective HDL levels begin to drop. The only way of finding this is by going in for a test.

4, If your family members have high levels of cholesterol and heart problems, your risks for these are increased. Even children in families where adults have high cholesterol are more likely to have high cholesterol themselves. So, it is important that the children from such families too have a check up and get advice from doctor on preventive measures which might help in their adult life.

5, Doctors advise everybody to go in for a test every three to five years – more often, if cholesterol problems run in the family r if you are overweight.

How is the test done ?

 All that is required is one prick of the needle, and a whole battery of blood tests will be carried out – Cholesterol, blood sugar, complete blood count, hemoglobin etc. The Cholesterol test will of course measure your total cholesterol levels ( HDL and LDL) and blood cholesterol particles. Today physicians give a lot of importance to the HDL count since it has been detected that even when the person has the desirable cholesterol levels, if they have a low HDL level, they may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.Before taking the test you need to fast for 6-8 hours, so it is practical to give the blood sample in the morning so that you get perfect results.

Diabetes – Blood Sugar tests to confirm this

Basically, the test measures the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood. People with a high blood sugar levels may have diabetes. Diabetes is a life style disease which fact we can easily believe in because the disease is found largely in urban areas. In fact even a low level of blood sugar is bad for our system. When the sugar level drops below a certain level the condition is called Hypoglycemia. When the blood sugar level is too low, you may have spells of dizziness or even fainting.

Normally a glucose test is done in the morning on an empty stomach. Your blood sugar is tested once again, two hours after you have eaten breakfast. This test shows how well your body handles the glucose you ingest during a meal. After two hours, your glucose should be back to normal levels. If not, you may have diabetes or a tendency to develop diabetes.

Physicians say that since life style has undergone a tremendous change for the worse people should be more aware and take these tests form a early stage in their life. They recommend 25 years as the starting point after which it is recommended that you carry out tests every three years. If you have any symptoms of the disease like blurred vision, excessive thirst or frequent urination or have a strong family history or are overweight, you need to be extra cautious and go more often for the test.

Some points to bear in mind while taking the test

An important thing to note is that chances of error are actually quite high in these tests. This is because of the fluctuating sugar levels which is frequent. So the best time to get it done is in the morning after you have fasted for about 12 hours before taking the test and of course after a meal again after 2 hours when the glucose levels in your blood have settled down.

Ideally you should take this test when you are feeling fine without any other health complaint like a fever or a cough. All thee and the medication that you may be taking for the illness can send the blood sugar levels soaring .

More importantly don’t cheat ! I know of people who eat light healthy meals the day before the test which according to them helps in getting a more positive result. You don’t want that, since you need to know the worst. So, prior to taking the test, the previous evening eat a meal that you would normally do without making any changes nor do any rigorous workouts ( which you don’t do otherwise ) nor take any insulin tablets the night before. There is point in taking the test when you go through all this.

Liver Function Test

Liver function tests are routinely done during an annual check up and are suggested when your skin or eyes are yellowish while compared to what it normally is or when you feel very tired even while doing day today activities.

We have to take into fact that liver is one of our star organs, in fact it is called super-chemist of physicians because it regulates many blood constituents and helps eliminate toxins and chemicals from the body. So, in essence if your liver is in trouble so are you.

What does the test involve?

The test checks the level of various vital chemicals in your liver.

This includes : Serum Glutamic Oxaloacetic Transaminase ( SGOT) – an enzyme produced in the liver and released whenever liver cells are damaged. Levels rise in many liver diseases such as Hepatitis and Cirrhosis.

SGPT : Serum Glutamic- Pyruvic Transaminase is an enzyme released into the blood stream when tissues in the liver, heart, brain or muscles are injured. They can also rise if a gallstone is blocking the bile duct, in the presence of liver disease, heart disease or infections.

Sometimes we get a yellow fluid called bile in our mouth when we have an upset stomach or when there is too much stress on our digestive system. Bilirubin is a yellow fluid found in the bile as a result of red blood cell destruction. The total bilirubin level increases in liver disease and when a person suffers from anemia , which is caused by Haemolysis which is a process where the red blood cells get destroyed faster than they normally should.

So, it is essential to maintain a healthy balance and level between the two most vital chemicals SGPT and SGOT in our liver.

Complete Blood Count

This is needed simply because blood is the basic life fluid flowing inside our body. And, its composition at any given time is the ace indicator of the state of your health. A routine blood test will tell you a whole lot of things about your health.Are you free of infections? Is the iron content in your body adequate? Do you suffer from a deadly silent killer like cancer?

A CBC test checks your red blood cell(RBC) count, hemoglobin , white blood cell( WBC) count, differential blood count ( Diff) and platelet count all of which are important. By counting the RBC and hemoglobin a doctor can tell us whether we are anemic. Here we also must note that women are far more likely to have anemia since they lose blood each month through menstruation.

The WBC count can confirm any suspicion of an infection. If you have a low count of WBC you are more likely to catch cold or any other infection. Low WBC count could also indicate overwhelming infections, AIDS or Cancer. A high WBC count on the other hand could mean Leukemia.

Different blood count checks the number of five different kinds of WBC. Any mismatch could indicate allergies, bacterial infections, some types of cancer, arthritis and at times even because some bodily stress, like a heart attack or some major illness or surgery.

A high platelet level in your blood which is considered a rare phenomena indicates and highly anemic state and requires treatment.

Urinalysis

When we look back even in ancient medicine urine was recognised as an important diagnostic agent. No wonder so much of importance is given by everyone on keeping the system flushed by taking plenty of water and fluids.

The most common urine test will look for the following..

Protein – If there is a high level of protein in your urine, it may mean that the kidneys are inflamed, infected or even on the verge of degenerating. It could also indicate the presence of a cyst or tumor, or may mean that bacterial infections elsewhere in the body are lowering the efficiency of your kidney.

Sugar – Sugar in the blood should stay within narrowly defined limits. When it rises too high, it gets thrown out by the kidneys. Normally sugar in the urine suggests that the person has diabetes, but it can also mean that you have been eating a lot of sweets.

Acidity - Normally, urine is acid. If it is alkaline in several specimen samples , it is presumed that there is cause for concern that something may be wrong. This happens frequently in infections of the bladder or kidneys. In certain stages of Pneumonia, the urine may be alkaline and in some nervous diseases, the urine is persistently alkaline.

Bile Pigments - Diseases of the liver or bilary tract ( gall bladder and the ducts) may cause bile to back up into the blood and then filter into the urine.This indicates that everything is not ok, there may be some strong reason for this. In somet cases, urine may also show up the presence of outside poisons like lead,arsenic etc that is present in the body.

Urine varies in composition at various times of the day. Doctors frequently specify whether it should be collected before breakfast – as is usually done in routine hospital examinations or after eating and drinking. If not specified it is best to take a mid stream sample in between meals, since after a meal the test may show excessive sugar. Drinking too much water may wash away the clues !

Urinalysis, when correlated with other tests and your doctor’s diagnosis, can save your life. So a urine analysis is advised strongly when there is any minor health problem.

Vision or Eye Test

We see more and more youngsters wearing glasses these days which makes one wonder whether it is the diet, lifestyle or neglect in early years that has lead to such a state of affairs. Consider the fact that your eye problems if any will show up as early as the age of five – around the time when children begin to read and write, which is why eye care must begin early. According to eye specialists, ideally children must see an eye specialist at five, seven and nine years of age. It is a crucial period in the development of eyes and vision.

An early eye check up is essential because sometimes a child may have good vision in one eye and poor vision in the other. Since the child cannot judge the problem, the other eye can get neglected and become amblyopic, where vision will not improve despite using spectacles at a later stage.

What does an eye test involve ?

A thorough eye check up would include an internal and external eye examination to make sure the eye is generally healthy, including tests for glaucoma ( which is a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing gradual loss of sight) if you are over 40 years of age or have history of glaucoma in your family.

If you are seeing an eye specialist after a very long gap of time an eye movement and co-ordination test might be done, to make sure that the eye muscles are balanced. This is particularly important for anyone who uses VDU( visual display unit like TV or computer) regularly or drives a lot. But the actual fact is that the number of people going for a routine eye test is miserably low. Most people go for a check up only when there is a problem not as a rule.

Dental Check-up

Man, woman and child all through life need this check up. Dentists recommend one every six months of your life. However, most people do not understand that serious dental problems are rarely accompanied by symptoms in their early stages. Quite often, a person will not realise whether he or she has a problem until a dentist diagnoses it.

We need to realise that a dentists appointment should be taken seriously since latest researches show that some deadly lung diseases could be directly related to unhealthy bacteria lurking in the mouth. And the only way you can get professional cleaning and checking done is by going to a dentist. Regardless of how diligent you are at brushing, your teeth and flossing regularly, you still need professional cleaning every six months to remove plaque and to attend to those areas that are impossible to clean at home. So make sure that you have regular dental check ups and remain healthy.

Conclusions

A test in time definitely saves our life or several far more serious  tests in the future ! When we actually look at the statistics of these diseases we also begin to realise how important timely checkups are. We come across many people with serious ailments regretting not having taken the test earlier. Since these tests can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better, you are able to get the right health services, screenings, and treatments. By going for regular health checkups you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life.

I would also like to mention here that a health insurance for the entire family is extremely helpful since it takes care of the financial side of most of our health problems.

 ( image - wikimedia)


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Comments (2)

  1. vaishnavi

Good and really useful article for my senior family member.

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  1. usha manohar

Thanks a lot Vaishnavi As you can see it is not for just senior family members it is for anyone who is above the age of 30 since BP and Diabetes are lifestyle diseases so also heart related problems...

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