Need a reason to celebrate 7 April this year? Make this World Health Day all about you!
How well do you know your health numbers? When last did you do your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure or HIV tests? And what about cancer screenings and other such checks? They are the easiest way to catch potentially serious diseases early and deal with them as soon as possible for better outcomes.
"Going for regular preventive screening checks is an investment in your own health," says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of Discovery Health's Centre for Clinical Excellence.
"Keeping up with these checks is the only way to catch potentially devastating illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and others early on. The health checks that detect the early onset of these conditions are the simplest, fastest way to screen for common conditions that can cause serious healthcare complications if they're not diagnosed."
"It's time to step back and look at our overall health again."
"We are over two years into a pandemic when all our attention was on COVID-19, and for good reason,' says Dr Nematswerani. "But it's time to step back, look at our overall health again and get back to our preventive checks."
"They're a quick and simple way to spot the first signs of any health issues. And, the sooner we do this, the sooner we can make lifestyle changes and get medical help to manage the condition and prevent significant healthcare complications down the line."
- Cancer is one example of how early detection, through screening, saves lives: Dr Nematswerani explains: "If you miss a cancer-screening check, you miss an opportunity to catch any signs of cancer early. Advanced cancer is associated with poorer clinical outcomes and higher healthcare costs - almost three times higher than the costs of treating cancer early. Screening tests detect cancers in people who have no signs or symptoms of disease."
Let's make World Health Day all about your health and wellbeing!
"World Health Day falls on 7 April this year, and at Discovery Health we're grabbing this global occasion with both hands to remind our medical scheme members to screen, screen, screen," adds Dr Nematswerani.
"We're absolutely passionate about this life-saving message, as it's totally in line with Discovery's core purpose, which is to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives."
3 more great reasons to book your preventive screening test today
1. You may have a chronic illness without knowing it
Dr Nematswerani gives us this example: "The International Diabetes Federation tells us that there are almost 550 million people living with diabetes worldwide. However, almost half the adults living with diabetes (240 million) are undiagnosed! For most people, this disease - in the form of type 2 diabetes - is linked to unhealthy living and starts off slowly. If it's not diagnosed or managed, it can lead to strokes, blindness, amputations and other serious complications. Fortunately, these are mostly avoidable. Screening tests are key to detecting diabetes early on and doing something about it."
2. We can't always rely on how we feel as a way of measuring our health
Dr Nematswerani points out that many serious conditions, such as smallpox, polio and whooping cough, have been largely eradicated because of vaccines.
Dr Nematswerani explains: "A number of preventable chronic illnesses have so-called 'silent' symptoms. This means these illnesses don't show any identifiable signs until they are quite advanced. In these cases, screening checks are the only way to pick up the start of chronic conditions early and take steps to prevent their progress."
3. A head-in-the-sand approach can have serious consequences
"Unmanaged chronic conditions put us at risk of developing deadly complications. For example, diabetes and hypertension can lead to chronic kidney disease - a very serious condition which is often silent until about 50% of kidney function is lost. A person in this condition will eventually end up on dialysis and need a kidney transplant," Dr Nematswerani explains.
"Serious down-the-line complications that significantly affect our quality of life - and our healthcare costs - are a reality we all face, if we don't know our health status."
So, which regular preventive screening tests should you have?
Discovery Health Medical Scheme members have access to essential screening and prevention benefits for a range of life-saving checks. These include:
- Mammograms, to screen for breast cancer
- Pap smears, to screen for cervical cancer
- Bowel cancer screening
The following tests are done during your Health Check (which takes about 30 minutes to complete):
- HIV testing
- Body mass index (or BMI - the ratio of your weight to your height), to check if your weight is higher than what it should be
- Blood glucose testing (for diabetes)
- Blood pressure testing (for hypertension)
- Cholesterol testing (for hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol)
- Find out your blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol and BMI by doing your Health Check at an accredited Vitality Wellness Centre, Vitality Wellness Network pharmacy, Discovery Store or Discovery Wellness Day. You can also book an appointment online.
- You can also earn Vitality points for doing other important screening checks, such as a Pap smear and HIV test. Find out more.
- Find out more about your screening and prevention benefits and read the benefit guide.
- We pay for the Health Check from your Screening and Prevention Benefit. This means it won't affect your day-to-day benefits. If you are a Vitality member, you can also get points for doing your Health Check.
- Members who are 65 years and older also have cover for a group of age-appropriate screening tests. These can be done by a general practitioner (GP) in the Premier Plus network or at a pharmacy in our defined pharmacy network. We cover hearing and visual screenings and a falls-risk assessment. These members may have cover for an extra GP falls-risk assessment, if they're referred by a Premier Plus GP, and depending on their screening test results and if they meet the Scheme's clinical-entry criteria.
- Vitality 65+ members have access to a Health Check for 65+. This Health Check includes other, enhanced screening assessments and gives members access to vaccines (including the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine and the shingles vaccine, with the necessary script).
More detail on cancer-screening checksWhen, and how often, you go for routine screening tests for cancer depends on your cancer risk profile. Screening for breast cancer:
- If you have no family history of breast cancer, you should start having mammograms or breast ultrasounds from the age of 40 and have them every two years.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer, start your screening tests when you are ten years younger than the person who had cancer in your family was when they were diagnosed. A screening test once a year is recommended.
- Breast MRIs and genetic screening are also appropriate in certain cases. Your healthcare provider can advise you here.
This test finds abnormal cells so that they can be treated before they have a chance to turn into a cervical cancer.
- For those who don't have a high risk of cervical cancer, screening should start from age 25. It's recommended they have either:
- A Pap smear every three years, or
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) screening every five years.
Keep in mind that a Pap smear looks for precancerous cells that might become cervical cancer if not treated. An HPV test checks for the type of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.
- For those who do have a high risk of cervical cancer (such as people living with HIV), a Pap smear once a year and HPV screening every three years are recommended.
- Stool-based tests are recommended every two years from the age of 45.
- A colonoscopy is recommended for those at a high risk of developing this cancer, such as people with a family history of colorectal cancer or those living with medical conditions that increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
"The take-home message in this discussion is that regular preventive screening is so important."
"At Discovery Health, we are working hard to reverse the collateral damage of the pandemic on cancer-screening checks and on other important checks - such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body mass index and other indicators of the onset of chronic illness," says Dr Nematswerani.
"The take-home message in this discussion is that regular preventive screening is important. And, if the screening picks up a condition, we need to work with our healthcare provider to optimise the management of the condition. Delaying these checks for a short time is perhaps possible to accept, but long delays could be detrimental to our health in the long term."