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Keep your health in check: Regular check-ups can help detect diseases that show no symptoms

Amrita Kaur on 02 Feb 2021

The Straits Times


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SINGAPORE - Some people may put off medical check-ups as they dread the process or fear hearing bad news, but these are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.


Check-ups help sift out conditions that are not yet showing signs or symptoms, so you can seek treatment early, lowering the risk of complications and improving the overall quality of life.


With one month of 2021 already gone, it is time to schedule your health check-ups for the year if you have not done so.


Dr Matthew Lee, director of clinical operations at digital health platform MyDoc, said the three most important tests one should undergo are those for cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, while the leading cancer screening tests one should go for are those for breast cancer and colon cancer.


Agreeing, Dr Derek Koh, the head of medical health screening at Thomson Wellth Clinic, stressed that hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol) have no symptoms.


Diseases of the heart, cancer and diabetes also have no symptoms in the early stages, he said, which underscores the importance of regular health screenings so doctors can detect and treat such issues early.


Typical health screening packages include a general consultation with a doctor before tests are recommended based on one's health profile - such as age, gender, family history, chronic conditions and lifestyle habits such as smoking.


For example, it is recommended that women aged 50 to 69 years old undergo a mammogram every two years as their risk of breast cancer rises during this period.


Sexually active women aged between 25 and 29 are advised to go for a pap smear - which involves collecting cells from your cervix to test for cervical cancer - once every three years.


A human papillomavirus (HPV) test is recommended every five years for sexually active women aged 30 and above.


Gender is an important contributing factor for health risks.


Dr Chua Boon Suan, a family physician at Lifescan Medical Centre, said a higher proportion of men suffer from diabetes than women.


"Accordingly, blood tests are able to detect conditions such as diabetes. These are recommended every three years, especially for individuals who are overweight or obese," she said.


Dr Koh noted that liver cancer is also more common among men, especially those who have chronic hepatitis B.


Individuals have a higher risk of getting coronary heart disease if they have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes or are obese.


Poor lifestyle choices such as smoking and a lack of exercise also increase one's risk of getting coronary heart disease, said Dr Koh.


The Health Promotion Board encourages workplaces to design health screening programmes for employees. However, the medical tests and services provided under employee benefits may differ.


For example, diagnostic laboratory and radiological tests such as urine tests, blood tests and magnetic resonance imaging, which are done to diagnose medical illness or diseases, are covered under Great Eastern's hospital and surgical policies for companies, said its managing director of general and group insurance Jimmy Tong.


This is provided the diagnostic tests lead to subsequent hospital admission or surgery within 90 days.


However, its medical insurance policies for companies under group insurance do not cover employees for screenings or tests such as annual health checks, X-rays and vaccinations.


AIA Singapore, on the other hand, offers basic health screening at no cost for corporate customers, said its chief corporate solutions officer Alvin Fu. This includes checks on body mass index, cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure.


Employees who suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes may sign up for AIA's chronic disease management programme to proactively manage their condition.


This includes prescription reminders, medication refills and nutrition advice. The services are provided for free as part of the outpatient general practitioner insurance programme.


Apart from bodily checks, going for a dental screening twice a year is important to ensure good oral health.


Dr Kenny Wong, the owner of SmileArts Dental Studio, said it is common for patients to experience no discomfort or pain when teeth cavities are small. However, detecting a small cavity during a routine dental check-up and restoring it with a filling arrests the decay and prevents the cavity from getting bigger.


"If left untreated, the decay could worsen and make its way into the inner core of the tooth, causing more tooth structure damage and irreversible inflammation of the pulp," he added.


This, he said, might require procedures such as root canal treatment and crowning.


"These dental procedures are more costly than fillings and require more visits to the dental clinic to treat," he added.


Dr Chua said many people take good health for granted until it is too late.


"Patients are often in shock or denial when they receive bad news from doctors that they may be sick or suffering from chronic diseases," she said.


To avoid such a situation, she advised individuals to make health their first priority and to take ownership of it.


"Ask your physician about the health screening packages most suitable for you, do some research on nutrition and disease prevention and become better educated on your overall well-being. You will not regret it," she said.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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