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Could you have a chronic illness and not know it?

Going for preventive screenings is an investment in your health

19 April 2022 - 15:07
We can't always rely on how we feel as a way of measuring our health. This is why preventative screenings are so important.
We can't always rely on how we feel as a way of measuring our health. This is why preventative screenings are so important.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Health

How well do you know your health numbers? When last did you do your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure or HIV/Aids tests? And what about cancer screenings and other such checks?

“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 such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and others early on. They’re the simplest, fastest way to screen for common conditions that can cause serious healthcare complications if they’re not diagnosed.”

Nematswerani says that at the start of the pandemic all our attention was focused on Covid — and for good reason — but now “it’s time to step back and look at our overall health again and get back to our preventive checks”.

“These screenings are 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.”

Four reasons to book your preventive screening tests today:

1. Early detection, through screening, saves lives

Cancer is one example of how early detection, through preventive screening, can save lives. 

“Screening tests detect cancers in people who have no signs or symptoms of disease,” says Nematswerani. “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.”

2. You may have a chronic illness without knowing it

Nematswerani gives diabetes as an example: “The International Diabetes Federation tells us 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.”

3. We can’t always rely on how we feel as a way of measuring our health

“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,” says Nematswerani. “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.”

4. 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 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,” says Nematswerani.

“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.”

Which regular preventive screening tests should you have?

Members of the Discovery Health Medical Scheme 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; and
  • Bowel cancer screening.

You can learn more about these tests here.

Those who are part of Discovery Vitality can also book for a Vitality Health Check, which takes about 30 minutes to complete and includes the following:

  • HIV/Aids testing;
  • Body mass index (BMI) testing to check if your weight is higher than it should be;
  • Blood glucose testing for diabetes;
  • Blood pressure testing for hypertension; and
  • Cholesterol testing for hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol).

“The take-home message 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,” says Nematswerani.

“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. 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.”

This article was paid for by Discovery Health.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme, registration number 1125, is regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes and administered by Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1997/013480/07, an authorised financial services provider.