Regardless of what age you are, but especially when you turn 50, having regular health checks is vitally important if you wish to live to a healthy and happy old age. Anyone with a family history of certain diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes should be particularly aware. There may be a variety of reasons why you choose not to bother your doctor, and while ideally regular health checks should be undertaken by a health professional, there are certain things you can check for in the privacy of your own home. Here are our suggestions for a DIY health check test.
Are you able to climb two flights of stairs without becoming unduly short of breath? Do you have any chest pains when you climb stairs? If you do, see your doctor. There may be an underlying cause – something as simple as anaemia, but there may be an issue with heart or lung disease.
Measure your weight, using bathroom scales, and your height, then check the results against a BMI (body mass index) calculator online. A BMI of 20 to 25 is considered normal. Anything less than 20 is underweight, and more than 25-30 overweight. If you are more than 30, you are considered obese.
You can also measure the girth of your tummy at the navel - it should be less than 37 inches.
You can buy blood pressure monitors online or from a chemist, or you can sometimes borrow them from your local medical centre. At rest, measure your blood pressure and pulse. Your BP should be around 130/80, with a pulse rate of between 60 and 100. Take readings over the course of a week. If your BP is persistently more than 140/90, then you probably have high blood pressure. A pulse rate of less than 60/min may be considered normal or it can indicate an underactive thyroid. A pulse rate over 100 per min will need further investigation.
You can also check your pulse by placing your index and middle fingers on the underside of your opposite wrist, just below the base of the thumb. Count the beats for one minute.
You can buy test kits for blood sugar, cholesterol, urine, and blood in your stools etc., from many high street chemists. A blood sugar of over 7 may indicate diabetes. A cholesterol of over 6 would be considered high. Your urine test should be negative for albumin, glucose and blood. If any of these are positive, then you should see your doctor.
You should be able to read books (near vision), and read car number plates (distant vision), if necessary with glasses. If there is any blurring, see your optician for a test.
You should be able to hear a ticking watch held near your ears.
Women of any age should check their breasts on a regular basis so that they quickly recognise when something is abnormal for them as individuals. Firstly, stand and look at your breasts in a mirror. Are there any changes, such as dimpling, redness, or scaling of the skin or nipples? Take a note of the usual differences between your breasts.
Secondly, lie down and raise your right arm above your head. Use the three middle fingers of your left hand to feel all over your right breast, beginning at the armpit. Repeat with your other breast. Report any lumps or anything unusual to your doctor as soon as possible.
If you notice any moles, freckles, blemishes or spots that seem to be changing, growing, or bleeding, then see your doctor. Most types of skin cancer are treatable when caught early. Any sores that fail to heal within three weeks also warrant further investigation.
Oral cancer is on the increase. A simple check means opening your mouth and looking for persistent white patches, or sore red areas on the tongue, especially any sore areas that don’t heal in a few weeks. Bleeding and inflamed gums can be an early warning of gum disease or gingivitis, which if left untreated, can cause mouth abscesses and destroy the fibres that secure the teeth to the gums. Frequent mouth ulcers and bleeding gums may be a symptom of diabetes, anaemia or vitamin C deficiency.
Check for any changes in bowel habits. You should have at least one per day. If you go two or three days without a bowel movement, consider whether you’re eating enough fibre. See your doctor if constipation or diarrhoea continue for more than two weeks. If there is any sign of blood (although this can be due to piles), talk to your doctor, especially if you see a black tarry substance in your stools.
Check the colour of your urine. You’re ideally hoping to see a light yellow liquid. Darker coloured liquid means you’re not drinking enough and this can result in kidney disease and skin problems. As we get older, we tend to feel less thirsty but we still need fluid. Aim for at least eight small glasses of fluid every day.
We all lose a certain amount of hair everyday (usually around 50 to 100 strands) but if yours is falling out faster than this, this can be caused by low iron or protein levels.
A final recommended DIY check is your fingernails. Do they crack or chip easily, or look yellow and cloudy? This may mean you have nutrient or mineral deficiencies. As we get older we need to eat plenty of healthy fats – things like avocados and olive oil.
Remember - If you have any concerns at all, please make an appointment to see your doctor at the earliest opportunity.
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