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It is important to have a wellness checkup at least once a year because illness can be managed effectively if detected early. The World Health Organisation describes health as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Wellness is an “approach to health that emphasises the prevention of illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasising treating diseases”. The prevalence of non-infectious diseases in Kenya ranges between 2.7 per cent in rural groups and 10.7 per cent in urban areas. Diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and cancer have become more common. In 2003, a survey by the Ministry of Health indicated that these diseases contributed to 53 per cent of hospital admissions, while WHO reports that non-communicable diseases cause 60 per cent of all deaths. Of note is that most of these diseases are preventable through healthy living.

WHO further identifies the major risk factors for these diseases as;

  • Overweight
  • Smoking
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Inadequate or lack of a healthy and nutritious diet
  • Lack of exercise

It is more difficult and more costly to regain full health once chronic illnesses have set in as irreversible cellular changes may have already taken place. It is these processes that progress to illnesses such as cancers. Wellness checkups are a group of tests and examinations targeting the most common diseases in a particular risk group. The most important reason for carrying out a wellness checkup at least once a year is because most illnesses, such as cancers, can be managed effectively if detected early and to combat present risk factors and avoid progression to full blown disease. Tests required as part of a wellness checkup depend on one’s age, past medical history, and family social history. These include;

A full physical examination; It is the first step in establishing how healthy you are, even without any lab or radiological investigations.

The Body Mass Index (BMI); is a measure of one’s weight in relation to height. Excessive weight is a major contributor to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Electrocardiogram (ECG); is a tracing of the electric activity of the heart and can pick up abnormalities indicating heart disease.

Clinical breast examination; is useful for picking up breast abnormalities such as lumps that may suggest cancer. A complete blood count is a panel of blood tests that includes haemoglobin, level which is the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, as well as screens for infections and blood abnormalities such as blood cancers. Tests on the liver measure the functioning of the organ. Abnormal levels indicate conditions such as inflammation of the liver tissue, pancreatic disease, and liver damage as a result of alcohol consumption.

Kidney tests; measure kidney function, which may be affected by chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Cholesterol levels; abnormal levels of the different types of cholesterol increase the risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

Thyroid function tests; evaluate the thyroid’s status, an organ that regulates the body’s metabolism and most bodily functions.

Prostate Specific Antigen; is a screening test for cancer of the prostate in men and other disorders of this gland.

Fasting blood sugar test; is the simplest method of screening individuals for diabetes. An elevated fasting blood sugar denotes overt diabetes or glucose intolerance.

A urine analysis; is a simple test useful not only for screening of infections in the urinary tract, but also in the kidney.

Stool microscopy; is useful for detecting abnormalities in the gut such as bacterial and parasitic infections.

The Pap smear; checks for changes in the cells of the cervix (the lower part of the womb that opens into the birth canal) which may indicate the presence of an infection, abnormal cells, or cancer in women.

These medical checkups are based on an individual’s risk factors and the tests done must be individualised. In addition, there are five key areas of health which one must focus on to remain in good health. This is because living healthy requires the right attitude and a change in lifestyle to see results.

Posted Tuesday, Dec 20,2011

Source : Daily Nation