Dr. Deyo Famuboni Answers Your Age-Specific Health Checkup QuestionsBy Dr. Deyo Famuboni
Published: October 6, 2017
Q&A: Health Checkups for Every Age
As we go through the hustle and bustle of our lives, working hard and looking after our loved ones, we often don’t give much thought to our health as long as we look and feel all right. However, we must sometimes stop and ensure that we aren’t missing vital health checks at various stages in our lives.
In this question and answer session, I would like to discuss the health checks and therapies that are important throughout our lives, from adolescence to after menopause.
I have daughters between the ages of 12 to 18. Are there particular health checks that are recommended?
By age 12, girls have usually begun to show signs of puberty, and most start their periods by age 13, though the range can vary from 11 to 15 years of age. If your daughter has had no pubertal changes (for example, no breast buds by age 13 and no periods by age 15), it is recommended that you seek medical advice, as delayed puberty needs investigating.
Regular vision and dental checks are also important and should be lifelong – start early!
In addition to the usual immunization schedules, it is recommended that girls be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) around age 12, before they are sexually active, to lower their risk of cervical cancer and possibly genital warts. Research has shown HPV to be a leading cause of cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women under 35 years old.
There are two types of HPV vaccines that protect against the two strains of HPV responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers. One of the vaccines, Gardasil, is also effective at preventing genital warts. Experts have recently reviewed the vaccines and their potential side effects and have deemed them to be safe.
I am between age 18 and 24. Do I need any checks?
Women at this age are generally fit and well, but if you are sexually active or are about to become active, it is important that both you and your partner have a screening done for sexually transmitted infections. Chlamydia is an important one to check for as it is common among 18- to 24-year-olds, easily detected and readily treated with antibiotics.
With the exception of hepatitis, syphilis and HIV, many tests for sexually transmitted infections can be carried out without a blood sample. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, require only a vaginal swab or urine sample. Testing can be performed by your regular doctor or at a sexual health clinic. Some tests are also available at local or online chemists. Treatment, if needed, will depend on your results.
For you men in your twenties, you are probably full of energy and vitality and may be sexually active. Taking care of your sexual health is important, and cultivating the habit of regular checks for sexually transmitted infections is crucial. The tests performed are the same as those for women, though you may be relieved to know that a simple urine test can usually pick up quite a few of the infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Prevention is always better than cure.
We usually do not worry about our health at this age, and disease is the furthest thing on our minds. But unfortunately, some illnesses do strike in youth, and one such malady is testicular cancer, which primarily affects men between the age of 15 and 49. It is vital to be aware of your testicles, to know how they normally feel, and if you notice any changes – lumps, bumps or different sensations – to seek medical attention immediately. Checking your testicles is another habit to cultivate for a lifetime.
I am between 25 and 39 years old. What do I need to know?
At this age, healthy lifestyle choices regarding diet and exercise must be part of our daily routine. The health changes we make now will sustain us for many years to come as long as we make them part of our lifestyle.
It is also important at this age to start being aware of your body and keeping tabs on how the various parts feel. Breast awareness is of particular importance, and it is crucial to perform regular self-examinations to spot any abnormalities. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, and it and cervical cancer are the most common cancers among women in Nigeria. Be breast aware: stay attuned to how they look and feel, as well as any nipple changes, lumps or bumps. Watch for early signs and seek medical attention should you notice any changes.
As well as continuing all of the above checks, it is important to have Pap smears every three years up to age 49, and every five years thereafter unless otherwise indicated by your doctor. The procedure involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix (the neck of the womb) to check for any abnormalities that might lead to cervical cancer.
If you are taking contraceptives, have regular discussions with your doctor about their effects, and keep an eye on both your blood pressure and weight, both of which can be affected by hormones.
This is the age range in which longstanding heavy periods can begin to show their effects in the form of low energy and fatigue. Should this be the case, it is advisable to have a blood test to check your iron levels. An iron deficiency is easily corrected with supplements and dietary changes, as well as possible medication to make periods lighter.
This is also the time in our lives when many of us consider having children. If this is the case, it is important to see a health care professional for pre-conception advice, such as the use of supplements, and a general health check. This is especially important if you have a pre-existing medical condition such as thyroid problems or diabetes, or are taking any prescription medications.
With suicide rates increasing in men under the age of 35, looking after your mental health from an early age is crucial. There appears to be a stigma around talking about mental health, particularly in men, but the high incidence of depression and suicide in Nigeria must be addressed. Take a step back from your busy life and take stock of how you are doing mentally. If you have concerns, talking with your health care practitioner about any underlying depression or anxiety is the first step toward good mental health.
Finally, weight can start creeping up around this age, especially if you have a sedentary job. Keeping an eye on your waistline is critical to prevent problems such as diabetes, osteoarthritis of the lower joints (from bearing the added weight) and circulatory problems in the future. And of course, you should continue with all of the regular health checks that you began in your twenties.
I am between 40 and 60. How is my health?
Our ancestors in the eighteenth century only had a life expectancy of 40 years, but thanks to modernization, we can still feel young and healthy well beyond this age. However, we might start to question just how healthy we really are.
This is the perfect time to have your doctor perform a comprehensive exam, including tests to check blood pressure, blood sugar, bone health, weight and cholesterol (fat in the blood). Early screening for certain conditions can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and certain types of dementia.
From the age of 50 onward, it is even more important to be breast aware, as the risk of breast cancer increases with age. It is vital for women to have a mammogram at least every three years. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can spot changes that might suggest cancer. Breast cancer affects 1 in 9 women, and finding changes early on can greatly improve a woman’s outcome.
Men in your forties, take note: at this age, the incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and prostate problems begin to increase. Hypertension and diabetes, if left unchecked, can cause problems with the blood vessels, leading to other medical conditions including kidney problems, strokes and heart attacks.
Prostate cancer, though most often seen in men in their seventies, is especially common in black men and can occur in the mid-forties. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and to have the size of the prostate checked, along with having regular PSA tests. The PSA test has its limitations but can be extremely useful when used in combination with regular checkups.
I’m over 60 – am I healthy enough to look after my grandchildren and travel the world?
By maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the years, we should be able to remain fit and active well into our eighties and nineties. Of course, certain conditions are more common at older ages, so regular checkups become even more crucial.
Regular eye exams are particularly important at this age. See an optician yearly to test vision and eye pressure, as well as to check for cataracts or macular degeneration.
It is also essential to monitor our gut health and have regular screenings for bowel (colon or rectal) cancer. A simple stool test every two years to check for blood in the stools is usually all that is needed.
The health of our bones becomes even more important as we age, especially for post-menopausal women. We must make sure to exercise regularly and get adequate doses of calcium and vitamin D. Depending on your medical history, you may benefit from a screening test for osteoporosis. The test is usually a DEXA scan, which is a bone density x-ray using very low doses of radiation. The scan takes about 10 to 15 minutes, causes no discomfort, and involves lying down while a scanning arm passes over you to take pictures of your spine and hips.
Please discuss with your doctor whether you might benefit from this or any other health test.
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