Healthy at every age

How do our health needs change and what tests should we do as we age?

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Having lived in the UK for a long time, I have realized that visiting the doctor for a regular check-up is pretty much impossible. That’s why every time I go home to Bulgaria, I tend to use the cheap and easy access to medical services. Last time I was home I decided to do some lab tests. However, when I went directly the laboratory, I was presented with a long and confusing list of three letter abbreviations and immediately realized that I need some professional advice before I can pick the right test. Motivated by this experience, I decided to consult the doctors at Vitu and give you some guidance on what regular check-up tests you should do according to your age group.

I am between 18 and 30 years old – what should I check?

Everyone who is young and healthy should start with full blood count (hemoglobin,leukocytes, erythrocytes, platelets), sugar (glucose levels) and body mass index (BMI). These tests would reveal whether you have anaemia, are if you are more likely to develop diabetes and/or obesity. Additionally, you should pay attention to any hereditary diseases, for which there are specific tests you can do.

In addition to the standard tests, we recommend checking the levels of vitamin D. Even in sunny countries more than half of the population is deficient, which is related to the modern lifestyle – living in enclosed spaces with artificial light, lack of exercise outside and mass use of sunscreen. That can lead to tiredness, memory loss and depression.

At this age it is not unusual to do some sexual exploration. However, changing partners often increases the risk of chlamydia, herpes, HPV viruses, aids (HIV) and other sexually transmitted diseases. If you think you are in this group, it is a good idea to do the appropriate tests.

Being vegetarian and vegan is another modern trend among the youth. In the last 10 years the number of vegetarians has doubled. Changes in eating habits often lead to deficiencies of vitamins or minerals like iron,  B12 or folic acid. Therefore, if you have a change in diet, it is advisable to test the levels of these substances.

I am between 30 and 50 years old – I am still young and vital, how can I stay like that?

Nowadays many think that in their 30s they are still young and that is true. However, the care you give to your body should increase with age. In addition to the tests we discussed above, we should look at cholesterol levels (total cholesterol, HDL – ‘good’ cholesterol, LDL – ‘bad’ cholesterol, triglycerides), thyroid gland and kidneys function.

Young men that spend the day sitting are more prone to higher levels of cholesterol, a leading risk factor for heart diseases.

In women, the presence of the hormone oestrogen usually defers cholesterol problems for a later age. For them, the annual gynaecological examination is an accepted practice in many countries, but even if it is not, it is advisable to do so.

With the higher incidents of thyroid autoimmune diseases and the increased TSH levels, women often face difficulties getting pregnant. Regular thyroid testing is recommended especially if you plan on having a family.

Breast ultrasonography every 2-3 years to prevent cancer should also be part of our regular check-ups.

The years between 30 and 50 are your best chance to establish a habit for regular exercise – taking regular walks, going to the gym, spending time in nature. At this age most people are still relatively healthy and have the opportunity to compensate for slight health disbalances and to establish healthy habits, thus improving their long term quality of life. 

I am more than half a century old – meeting the doctor is unavoidable

At this point, regular check-ups should be done not only because you care but also because it is recommended by all national health institutions around the world. You have passed the 50th age mark, you are wiser but still wish to live actively, so what should you pay attention to so you can live at least another half of a century?

In addition to the standard check-ups like blood counts, body weight and glucose levels, once a year it is recommended to do an electrocardiogram to monitor the cardiovascular system. If you suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, or if you are taking certain medicines, for example to treat rheumatoid arthritis, it is advisable to check your eyes. Aside from changes to your retina, which can be noticed, it is advisable to check for glaucoma and cataracts.

After the age of 55 most women are in menopause and are at a risk to develop osteoporosis, which leads to more bone fractures. Doing a mammography every 2 years (or more often if you have breast cancer in the family), as well as mammary ultrasound are needed to diagnose breast cancer.

It is recommended for men to do an urinary system ultrasound and prostate cancer screening. The last one is the only tumour marker that has been successfully adopted for early diagnostics. Often patients want to do tests for all tumour markers, but these are only relevant in the context of each patient. Tumour markers for other cancers are not sensitive and specific enough for early detection of the disease, so they are not recommended as screening tests, but only as additional diagnostics for an established disease. Their place is in monitoring the effects of prescribed treatment or in high-risk patients in combination with other diagnostic methods.   

Whatever disease you might think you have, do not worry but do a check-up regularly. Don’t forget to also do tests when you are healthy and to visit the doctor afterwards for interpretation and guidance.

Note: Please note that that there are multiple sources and opinions used for the articles. The publications cannot replace a consultation with a doctor and/or another appropriate specialist, and they cannot be considered a diagnosis or a prescription.

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