Putting off your annual health checkup? You are not alone! After all, who wants to find out they may have health problems? But, to take care of your health, and your good looks, regular health checks are a must. We asked the experts to identify 5 health checks every man needs to have to help prevent, diagnose and manage serious illnesses.
1. Heart health checks
The tests: Blood pressure, cholesterol and weight
Where: At your GP, a pharmacy or local clinic, or company wellness day
There’s a good reason your GP slaps the cuff around your arm every time they see you! High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the main causes of heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death for men in South Africa. Keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and your risk of illness or early death due to heart disease is lowered. The same is true for your weight! You don’t need a six pack to be heart healthy, but you do need to be in a healthy weight range for your height. You can work out your healthy weight range using a body mass index (BMI) calculator.
Keep healthy: 80% of early deaths (before age 65) that are caused by heart disease and stroke can be avoided by following a healthy diet, regular physical activity and not smoking tobacco.
Warning signs: The only way to know for sure that you have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol is to have a check. However, if you experience chest pains, tightness or pressure in the chest, dizziness or heart palpitations you should visit your GP or emergency rooms immediately for a check up.
Find out more: Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
2. Diabetes check
The test: Blood glucose level
Where: At your GP, a pharmacy or local clinic, or a company wellness day
Diabetes damages the nerves and blood vessels, and health complications include kidney disease, loss of vision and heart disease. Prevent it, detect it early and manage it!
Keep healthy: Sticking to a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding tobacco use are ways to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation.
Warning signs: If you experience any signs of diabetes you should visit your GP immediately so you can diagnose and treat the condition. These include excessive thirst, urination and unexplained weight loss, as well as constant fatigue and tiredness.
Find out more: Diabetes South Africa
3. Respiratory system (lungs) checks
The tests: Lung, or pulmonary, function tests
Where: At a GP or your local clinic
When: Be guided by your healthcare practitioner, but don’t ignore persistent coughs, wheezing and breathing difficulties
Chronic respiratory diseases include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. Death due to these illnesses are higher for men than women in South Africa. If you have or have had TB, and/or smoke tobacco, you may be at higher risk of a respiratory illness and may require regular tests, which you can discuss with your GP or healthcare practitioner.
Keep healthy: Tobacco use is a risk factor for respiratory illnesses, but so is second-hand smoke and other pollutants such as smoke from fires, especially indoor fires. Limiting or avoiding exposure to these can help prevent chronic respiratory illnesses.
Warning signs: Watch out for difficulty breathing, wheezing, a tight chest and frequent respiratory illnesses as these are warning signs your respiratory system is not functioning optimally.
Find out more: COPD Foundation South Africa
4. Cancer checks for lung, prostate, colorectal and skin cancer
The test: Physical examination by your doctor, a chest X-ray, sputum test and CT scan
Where: Your GP or clinic
When: If you are between ages 55 and 74 and have a history of heavy smoking (one pack a day for more than 30 years), talk to your doctor about screening.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men in South Africa. Warning signs include difficulty breathing and coughing, as well as coughing up blood, and feeling tired all the time.
The test: PSA prostate examination and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test
When: Annually from age 45
Where: At your GP or clinic
Prostate cancer accounts for a quarter of all cancers diagnosed in men in South Africa. Detect it early and you can treat and manage it! Warning signs include trouble urinating, including excessive urinating, pain when urinating and difficulty urinating, as well as pain in the pelvic area.
The test: Lab stool test, colonoscopy
When: For the over 45s, a lab stool test annually and a colonoscopy every 2 to 5 years.
Where: At your GP or local clinic
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in men, after prostate cancer, with 1 in 77 men diagnosed each year, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). Warning signs include persistent abdominal discomfort including cramps, gas and pain, a feeling your bowel doesn’t empty completely, unexplained weight loss, as well as fatigue and feeling tired all the time.
The test: Have your skin checked for moles
When: Every three years if you are aged between 20 and 40 years, and annually if you are older than 40 years
Where: At a CANSA Care Centre, your GP or clinic
The South African sun can be lethal, and skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, is the second most diagnosed cancer in men after prostate cancer. Globally, one third of all cancers diagnosed are skin cancers. Warning signs include moles that are irregular in shape, change in shape and size, and moles that bleed.
Keep healthy: An estimated 40% of cancers can be prevented by measures such as following a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, and avoiding the sun, wearing sun protective clothing and using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.
5. Mental health checks
Mental health illnesses, such as depression, are illnesses that need to be diagnosed and treated by healthcare professionals, just as you would for high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Mental health issues can also affect your physical health, such as heart health, so getting expert help is a must!
Warning signs: If you frequently feel anxious and stressed, and find it difficult to cope, your mental health needs attention. You could also be suffering from depression. Depression is not unusual or rare with as many as 25% of South Africans suffering from the illness. Symptoms include feeling down, losing interest in activities and work you once enjoyed, sleep problems, feelings of fear, guilt and hopelessness. Chat to your GP, a counsellor or therapist about any mental health issues you have when they arise.
Find out more: South African Depression and Anxiety Group
Tips to help you stay healthy
- Do not smoke. At all. Or stop smoking.
- Eat plenty of foods such as vegetables, foods high in fibre, and fruit
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Protect yourself against the sun
- Don’t let mental health issues linger – chat to a GP or therapist about help
- Have the regular health checks listed here and chat to a healthcare professional if you are concerned about anything.
To your good health
A good place to start with these must have tests is to schedule an annual check-up with your GP. They can guide you as to what tests you should have in addition to these, depending on your state of health and your family history. Don’t delay, test today!