Preventative healthcare the way to go


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Category: Health Care 18 May 11

The pretty woman was standing by herself at the party. “Where is your husband?” I asked, looking around for a tall slim good looking middle aged man whose bashful smile crinkling his eyes gave him a Marlborough ad look. I never saw them apart. They made a handsome couple, their faces often lit with laugher. Her eyes welled up. “He died.” “He DIED? How?” “Heart Attack,” she said and added,

“Two weeks back on a Saturday morning. I left him watching the Westerns he loved, went out to do my chores, came home with his favourite lunch and found him lying with his back to me on the bed. I told him I had brought lunch. I told not to sleep like that. I told him it would hurt his neck. I shook him and found he was dead.” I began babbling groping for things to say, sounding like a pseudo doctor, as if going back in time was a magic talisman that would bring a sweet human being back from the dead. “Did he have high cholesterol? Were his arteries blocked? Did he do an angiogram? When last did he do a stress test?” The pretty woman said “He did none of those things. He never had any symptoms, you see. He didn’t feel the need to get the tests done.”

I turned away as did she, to speak to someone else. It was too late now. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered the “too late for tests situation.” Every time it happens I am always shocked because I think people know that everyday five people die of heart attacks in this country. People know that we have among the highest incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension in the entire world. I personally knew the gentleman who actually left the doctor’s office minutes before he was due to do a cholesterol test because he felt it was a waste of time. He was dead two months later, in a car park.

I met the young woman who would rather die than submit to an HIV/Aids test “in case” she was positive. She died six months later needlessly, untreated. I visited the older woman who lay in hospital with an amputated leg because she refused to check her blood sugar levels or to keep diabetes in check. People know this is all preventable. This week a doctor that I hold in very high regard told me to go to medical school—a testy (and understandable) reaction to my recent columns on calling for accountability in the medical profession which many perceived as an attack.

Another doctor wrote online, in response to one of my “medical” columns (in between many personal insults) that it was NOT the Medical board nor the Associations’ job to educate people about their health. He said it was my job as a journalist to do so. I am taking his advice but I think everyone is responsible. The Government, doctors, the media, and most of all, us the patients for our own health. We can’t simply whine about the terrible system, the shortage of doctors, nurses, and equipment and the hopeless mismanagement while shoving KFC down our faces. We have rights as patients but we also have responsibilities, and preventative health care is the way to go. We shouldn’t be needlessly burdening our hospitals and health centres because we are eating too much salt, sugar, fat, wheat and meat and failing to exercise regularly. We can’t blame doctors and nurses for our clogged arteries after neglecting to eat fruit, nuts, vegetables, peas and beans. We can’t blame doctors for our overweight children or their rotten teeth if we pack sweet drinks in their lunch kits. I am not a doctor but a journalist who found tests we should be doing on the Mayo Clinic Website. Please have a read and ask your doctor about taking the tests that apply to you. 

Blood Sugar Or Blood Glucose Test:

Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Everyone over 35, irrespective of their family history, should take this test annually. Why—It indicates whether a person is diabetic or not. Blood Pressure Test: Type—Measurement of pressure using an instrument. For Whom—Everyone over 30 should take this test once every three months. Why—Any rise or fall in blood pressure (BP) can indicate the possibility of an ailment. For example, a rise in blood pressure can indicate the threat of a cardio-vascular ailment. If the test reveals high BP, a serum creatinine test should also be carried out to detect whether the kidney has been damaged.

Lipid Profile Test: Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Everyone over 35 should take it annually. Why—It gives an indication of various fat fractions in the blood like HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). High LDL levels could lead to cardio-vascular ailments. 

Electrocardiogram (ECG) Test:

Type—An electrical recording of the heart beat. For Whom—Everyone over 40 should undergo it annually.

Why—It indicates whether the blood supply to the heart is normal. This could happen due to narrowing of blood vessels and can lead to ischaemic heart disease (more common among men). This is a condition when the vessels supplying blood to the heart are blocked partially or fully due to fat deposits. Postmenopausal women are equally threatened with the ailment once the protective effect of female hormones is no longer there.


Type—A radiology-cum-sonology test. For Whom—Women after age of 40, especially those with a family history of breast cancer, should take it one in two years. Why—It indicates whether the woman is suffering from breast cancer. Mammograms can detect the problem much before it can be felt by self breast exam.

Pap Smear: 

Type—Cells are collected from the cervix, and studied for possible ailments. For Whom—All sexually active women should take it once in two years. Why—It indicates whether the woman is suffering from cervical cancer. 

Bone Densitometry:

Type—An advanced radiological procedure.

For Whom—Women over 50. Why—It indicates the fragility of the bones and consequently, whether the woman is suffering from osteoporosis. 

Prostate Specific Antigen(PSA):

Type—Blood Test. 

For Whom—Men over 50. Why—It helps in detecting cancer of the prostate gland, which is located around the neck of the urinary bladder. Post-50, the prostate gland in men tends to enlarge. This growth is generally benign, but in some cases, it could be cancerous.


Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Teenage girls

Why—It shows whether the patient is anaemic, a common occurrence among the Teenager Girls. At this age, many girls experience heavy periods, intense stress as they gear up for their first board examination and anorexia as they become obsessed with their appearance. These factors trigger anaemia.

Thyroid Hormone (T3,T4 and TSH) Test:

Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Menopausal women (in the age group of 45-50 years) Why—The tests reveal whether unexplained weight gain or loss and mood swings—usually labelled as menopausal changes—are due to an increase or decrease in the secretion of thyroid.

HIV Test: Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Blood donors or receivers, sexually active individuals, and couples on the threshold of marriage. Why—To detect whether one is HIV +ve, a condition which could lead to full blown Aids (a terminal illness).

Hepatitis B Surface Antigen Test: Type—Blood Test

For Whom—Men and women with a history of liver problems, sexually active individuals, and couples on threshold of marriage as Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease. Why—It shows whether the person is suffering from jaundice or not. Recurrent attacks of jaundice could lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

It’s not an exhaustive list. It’s a start and must be combined with a healthy lifestyle. If you don’t already, begin actively participating in your health. I still wish the husband of the pretty woman had done a routine cholesterol test. Who knows? He may have been here at the party, laughing with her like always, if he had.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur