Your Health MOT
By Lucy Corry
There's never a better time than now to make sure your body is in good running order. You wouldn't drive your car after it had been sitting in the garage all winter without giving it a good going over, so why not give your body a seasonal tune-up too?
GP Christine Brown has the following tips on how to make sure your health is sorted:
THE EYES HAVE IT
Brown says routine eye examinations should be carried out every two years - whether you have vision problems or not.
"Eye tests do more than just check your sight. Opticians screen for glaucoma, diabetic changes in the back of the eye. Blood pressure problems can even show up in the eyes before anywhere else. For people who never go to the doctors, an eye test can show up all sorts of things.''
Brown says glaucoma, which can lead to blindness, often does not present any symptoms and can affect people of all ages.
If you have any symptoms of visual loss, you should have your eyes tested more often.''
Pam Ayres's famous poem, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth, says it all.
"It's difficult to advise people to go for six-month check-ups when there is such a lack of NHS dentists, but as a principle, if you can get a six-month check-up you are much less likely to run into dental or gum problems,'' Brown says.
"With the amount of sugary food and fizzy drinks we have these days tooth decay is really really common. But gum disease is much more common and if you have it you're much more likely to lose your teeth.''
Brown says that if a full dental check-up is hard to arrange you should at least try to see a dental hygienist, who will advise you on looking after your teeth.
"This is very important in the high risk group, aged 16-25,'' Brown says. This age group is at particular risk of chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the UK. One in 10 in this age group are infected.
You can get a chlamydia test at your local pharmacist, alternatively, Homechec offers an at-home testing kit, priced £19.99, which is available from homechec.co.uk.
If you have had unprotected sex, Brown says it is important to get tested as soon as possible, as 70% of women and 50% of men with the disease have no symptoms.
Left untreated in women, chlamydia can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
THINGS YOU'RE NOT SURE ABOUT
While it's tempting to ask your doctor for every test going, you might be wasting your time - and theirs.
Brown says having your iron levels, cholesterol or thyroid function tested is only necessary if you have a medical condition or a family history of problems in these areas.
"Iron tests are not routinely done unless people have symptoms of anaemia or blood loss - such as very heavy periods or bleeding piles. Unless you have a medical condition, if you have concerns about your iron intake, it's better to increase it,'' she says.
Many pharmacies now offer free cholesterol testing, but Brown suggests you consider carefully if you need it.
"There's no value at all in getting tested and just getting a number if you don't know what it means. If you have other risk factors - such as smoking, being overweight or having a family history of heart disease, then you should certainly have your cholesterol checked. But if you're a young, reasonably fit person, there's little point.''
"More than anything, people need to keep an eye on their weight,'' Brown says. "They need to weigh themselves and get an objective measure of what they weigh by calculating their BMI (Body Mass Index).''
Brown says it's important to compare your weight with previous years and act accordingly.
"If your BMI is going up year on year, you need to do something about it. A BMI above 30 means you're obese - and the best thing you can do for your health is to get your weight down.''
ONE LAST THING
Brown has one final simple task, which will help safeguard against colon cancer.
"People should keep an eye out for blood in their motions when they go to the toilet,'' she says. "Colon cancer often has no symptoms, but commonly blood mixed in with motions is a sign. We're a bit funny in this country when it comes to these matters, but it is important. Checking isn't popular, but it's a really useful thing to do.''