Healthy Life

Maintaining your healthcare is essential… And it’s as easy as making a regular appointment for a checkup.

So here you are, feeling on top of the world, bursting with health and looking good. That’s great! However, there are several good reasons why you should still diarise a regular checkup with a few key people in your medical world, no matter how bouncy the spring in your step. These experts can often spot early-warning signs long before a real health problem develops. 

1. Start with your GP

Not all of us can afford to go to the dermatologist, gynaecologist, dentist, optometrist and proctologist every year. But start with an annual appointment with your doctor: your GP will be able to pick up when something isn’t right and refer you to the appropriate specialist, if necessary.

Dr Francois Swart, a GP at Mediclinic Ermelo, says: ‘Most of my patients come to me when they have a particular health problem that they want solved. But sometimes a patient will tell me: “Doc, I want a full checkup – test me for everything.”’

An appointment is an opportunity for a more wide-ranging checkup. In a consultation for flu or an injured toe, for example, your GP is likely to ask you a few unrelated questions, such as: ‘Have you had a pap smear? When was your cholesterol last checked?’ Your doctor may test your blood-sugar levels and take your blood pressure, or order further tests, such as a colonoscopy and screening for thyroid function.

Many factors combine to make each patient unique, notes Dr Swart. These include age, gender, ethnicity, habits, previous medical problems and present state of health. He believes that a targeted ‘individual approach’ takes into account any risk factors of each patient, and helps determine the most appropriate tests and treatments for them. 

2. How your dentist can fill in the gaps…

Keep a date in your diary free for your dentist, too. Most people probably see their dentist more regularly than their GP, which gives the dentist a good opportunity for a ‘close-up’ of the patient’s general health condition, says Cape Town dentist Dr Henk Pretorius.

Gingivitis, for example, or gum inflammation, can lead to periodontal disease, which can affect your overall health. Studies have shown that people with periodontal disease may be more likely to have coronary artery disease than people with healthy mouths. Scientists have two possible explanations for this association, he says. One is the bacteria that cause periodontal disease can release toxins into or travel through the bloodstream and help to form fatty plaques in the arteries. These deposits can lead to serious problems, such as blood clots, which can block blood flow. The other explanation is that these bacteria cause the liver to make high levels of certain proteins, which inflame the blood vessels. Inflammation could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.

The link between oral hygiene and overall health seems strong enough to give you good reason to have your teeth professionally cleaned at least once every six months and to floss daily. 

3. Not just skin deep. What the dermatologist sees…

Worried about those odd-coloured warts or blisters on your skin that just don’t go away? You might have a mild form of skin cancer. It’s prudent in South Africa, where we have plenty of sunshine all year round, to have a regular checkup by a dermatologist, who will test and diagnose the problem area – and treat it before it becomes a health risk.

Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common skin cancers – and they develop mainly from a lifetime’s exposure to the sun.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The growths develop when damage to skin cells (usually caused by the sun or tanning beds) causes skin cells to mutate and multiply, forming malignant tumours. 

Protect yourself?

Capetonian Wayne Hilton, 62, grew up in the days when, he says, ‘we happily fried in the sun all summer long’. Recently, concerned about persistent lesions on his leg, he consulted a dermatologist and was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma. Left untreated, this cancer would have spread to other parts of the body and could have been fatal. Fortunately, Wayne had surgery to remove the lesions and the surrounding tissue, and is now looking forward to a pain-free life (out of the sun). 

Did you know?

‘The incidence of malignant melanoma is 15 times less among dark-skinned individuals than among the lighter-complexion population,’ states the Cancer Association of South Africa. Oddly, 60% of melanomas among SA’s black population arise in non-sun-exposed skin because dark skin is less susceptible to sun damage than fair skin, so if black people get melanoma it’s due to other cancer-promoting reasons.