10 Medical Checks That Could Save Your Life, and When to Have Them

medical tests early detection could save your life

It's a well-known fact that as we age, we become more susceptible to chronic conditions and dread diseases. This is exactly why regular medical procedures, screenings and tests are important, especially from the age of 40 years and on.

Here we list 10 medical checks that can help save lives, with details of what they involve and when and why it's important to have them.

Blood sugar - diabetes

Who: men and women over the age of 45

When: every three years

How: a blood test or finger-prick test

A blood sugar or blood glucose test determines the levels of glucose in your body. High blood sugar is symptomatic of diabetes, one of the main causes of death in South Africa.

If you're overweight, have a family history of diabetes or have high cholesterol, blood pressure or heart disease, it's recommended you screen for diabetes from the age of 35 years.

Blood pressure - stroke

Who: men and women over the age of 40

When: at least once a year

How: a soft cuff placed around the arm

A normal blood pressure (BP) is in 120 to 139/80 to 89 mm HG range. A higher BP may be indicative of hypertension, which is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. It's also an early warning sign of type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Cholesterol - heart disease

Who: men over 45 and women over 55

When: annually

How: finger-prick test

High cholesterol is one of the main causes of atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries. If you have a high level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, it increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral artery disease.

Colon screening - colon cancer

Who: men and women of 50 years and above

When: differs according to screening test

How: faecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and/or colonoscopy

Several types of screenings can help detect colon cancer. They identify ulcers, pre-cancerous polyps or cancerous tumours. Doctors usually schedule a colonoscopy every 10 years. Depending on your risk factors, a barium enema and/or faecal occult blood test may be recommended more often.

Mole mapping - skin cancer

Who: men and women of all ages, but especially after age 40

When: annually

How: examination and visual recording of all the moles on the body

Mole mapping involves making a visual record of all the moles on the body. Over time, repeat examinations by a dermatologist or doctor identify any abnormalities or changes to the moles.

Growths are tested and, if it's determined they could be cancerous, surgery or further treatment is prescribed.

Bone density test - osteoarthritis

Who: men of 70 and women of 65 and up

When: depending on the results of the first test

How: a dual energy X-ray test

A bone density test is an X-ray that measures the amount of calcium and other bone minerals in a section of bone in the hip, arm or spine. The higher the bone mineral content, the denser and stronger your bones, and the less likely you are to get osteoarthritis.

Glaucoma screening - partial or total blindness

Who: men and women from the age of 40

When: every five to 10 years, increasing in frequency as you age

How: part of a standard eye examination at an optometrist

A glaucoma test includes a puff test, which measures the reaction of the eye to a concentrated but harmless puff of air. It also includes an eye pressure test, conducted by lightly touching the surface of the eye with a special device, called a tonometer.

Thyroid test - hyper or hypothyroidism

Who: men and women from the age of 60

When: every five years

How: a blood test

Thyroid tests are a series of blood tests that measure thyroid gland function. If the thyroid hormone levels in the blood are too high, the thyroid is hyperactive, and there's a risk of hyperthyroidism and/or Grave's disease.

If the thyroid hormone levels are too low, the thyroid is underactive, and hypothyroidism can be the result. Both disorders are easily treated, but can be life threatening if not diagnosed.

Mammogram - breast cancer

Who: women over the age of 40

When: every one to two years

How: an X-ray of the breast tissue

A mammogram is an X-ray conducted in a clinic or hospital to detect bumps or growths in the breast. It is an effective, although often uncomfortable, breast cancer detection method. The breast is placed on a flat plate, compressed and then scanned.

Prostate exam - prostate cancer

Who: men aged between 50 and 70

When: every year

How: a physical examination of the prostate gland and/or blood tests

A doctor checks the prostate gland for size and shape abnormalities by way of a digital rectum exam. Thereafter, a test measuring the prostate-specific antigens (PSA) levels in the blood may be required as a cancer screening measure.

Medical screening tests: covered by medical aid or not?

Most medical aid schemes in South Africa do cover the costs of preventative screening tests. The level of cover may differ from scheme to scheme

As an example, Discovery Health offers screening and prevention benefits that cover the costs of the following tests at network providers:

  • blood glucose tests
  • blood pressure tests
  • cholesterol tests
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) tests
  • one mammogram every two years
  • an annual PSA test.

At IFC, we offer informed, objective advice about South African medical aid schemes, and can assist you in joining the scheme that best suits your needs and budget. Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.