What tests should I have regularly?
The old adage “prevention is better than cure” has never made more sense than today, especially when it comes to our health. While many people may feel that in the current pandemic environment, it is best to skip the usual routine medical exams – the so-called routine physical exam. medical check-up -the truth is that they are even more important today.
Routine checkups identify potential health problems before they develop into something more serious. This early detection allows for prompt treatment, avoiding complications, including those related to Covid-19, and ensuring a longer, healthier life.
A health check is a study of a person’s general health, which aims to assess the risk and detection of certain diseases, before they show symptoms, as well as to minimize their occurrence and impact.
Because it is an individual and personalized assessment, the tests to be performed vary from person to person and depend on factors such as. :
- Race and ethnicity;
- Personal medical history;
- Family history;
- Lifestyle habits (diet, physical activity, smoking and/or alcohol consumption, among others);
- Environmental conditions.
What is the purpose of the medical examination
The traditional health check-up should be performed, on average, once a year and consists of a set of tests and clinical examinations. The results of this assessment are used to determine whether the person has significant risk factors for certain health problems, such as:
The routine medical visit should preferably be performed on the recommendation of the attending physician, as he or she knows the patient best.
The type of workup needed depends on the physician’s decision, after conducting an initial conversation with the patient (called a history), during which he or she gathers information about complaints, observes nonverbal language (gestures and unconscious expressions), obtains individual and family health history, and inquires about lifestyle habits.
Based on the findings of this initial interview, the physician determines what laboratory and radiological examinations he or she deems necessary.
Main tests of the basic medical examination
Blood pressure measurement
This is a simple procedure. Its main purpose is to check the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), which is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular complications. In Portugal, it is even the most important risk factor for stroke and myocardial infarction.
Blood pressure is the force with which the blood circulates inside the body’s arteries and the consequent pressure it exerts on the artery walls. If the blood is under pressure (hypertension), the heart is forced to work harder, which can lead to increased muscle mass and volume (hypertrophy).
Body Mass Index
Body mass index assessment provides a quick way to identify obese or excessively thin situations by relating the person’s weight to height.
Obesity is a risk factor for several diseases, namely:
- Cardiovascular disease;
- Respiratory diseases;
- Osteoarticular diseases;
- Psychic disorders.
As for excessive thinness, it can lead to the development of anemia, weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and mood swings, among other health problems.
Heart and Lung Analysis
A medical checkup of the heart can identify risks for heart and/or circulatory problems, including arrhythmias, heart failure, and stroke. It is generally recommended to begin in adolescence. As people age, the need to repeat the examination more frequently also increases.
Genetic predisposition to heart problems and risk behaviors (such as smoking, for example) may warrant greater attention to the importance of monitoring and a reduction in the interval between routine examinations.
Depending on the individual clinical case, the physician may order one or more of the following tests:
- Chest X-ray;
- Laboratory tests (blood tests);
- Stress tests.
Some of these tests also assess lung function.
The physician may also find it necessary to measure the ability of the lung to hold and move air, as well as to absorb oxygen.
This assessment can be made by performing different types of tests, namely:
- Pulmonary function tests (PFT);
- Chest imaging.
Complete blood count
This is the most common test. It assesses all cellular components of the blood (white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets). It can be used to assess general health by identifying diseases that cause changes in blood composition. For example:
- Bacterial infections;
- Viral infections.
Platelet assessment is used to evaluate the risk of thrombosis and blood vessel obstruction, as well as the presence of bleeding.
Measurement of blood glucose
This test is especially recommended for people between the ages of 40 and 70, especially if they are overweight. Higher blood glucose values may indicate diabetes.
For patients with risk factors for diabetes, or those who have already been diagnosed, glycated hemoglobin is indicated, as it is an effective way to assess average blood glucose levels over the past two to three months.
It may also be useful in the diagnosis of diabetes, although fasting blood glucose is the most commonly used test for this purpose.
Measurement of thyroid function
Measurement of TSH, T4 and T3 parameters.
Measurement of cholesterol
Cholesterol measurement is primarily recommended for women over 50 and men over 40.
Cholesterol can be good (HDL) or bad (LDL). Blood tests also measure total cholesterol. Excessively high LDL values are a risk factor for cardiovascular problems.
Triglyceride levels are measured by blood tests and should be assessed once a year.
Values that are too high significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular problems and are linked to changes in the liver and pancreas.
Measurement of renal function
Assess kidney function by testing blood (creatinine and urea) and urine samples.
Measure liver function
Provides information on liver and bile duct function. The main and most commonly requested are:
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT);
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALP);
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST);
- Total bilirubin and fractions;
- Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT);
- Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH).
Measurement of vitamins
Assessment of the level of important vitamins for the functioning of the body, namely vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Mammography is used to identify the presence of breast cancer. It is a recommended examination for all women aged 50 years and older and should be performed at least every two years.
When detected at an early stage, the chances of cure are much greater. In addition to this examination, women aged 20 years and older should perform regular breast self-examination.
This test identifies changes in the cells of the cervix and its main purpose is the early detection of cancer or viral infections.
It is generally recommended every three years for women over the age of 21, but also for those who have already begun sexual activity.
This test is intended for the early detection of possible alterations in the mucous membrane of the cervix, usually caused by the HPV virus, which represents an important risk factor for the development of cancer in women. It is indicated for women from the beginning of their sexual activity.
The Pap smear is a screening test and its result, if it confirms the suspicion of a pre-malignant lesion, allows the gynecologist to intervene early by performing a biopsy and administering the necessary treatment.
This is a fairly simple, quick and virtually painless test to collect cell samples, which are then sent to a laboratory. In addition to HPV, it can be used to test for other gynecological infections, such as Gardnerella, Trichomoniasis, Candidiasis, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and Chlamydia.
An eye examination should be done every year from the age of 40 or for people with vision problems or diabetes. In addition to correcting vision, it can prevent problems such as the risk of glaucoma or, in extreme cases, blindness.
This test, which is usually performed under anesthesia, is designed to detect lesions in the intestine and to identify the presence of cancerous cells. It should be performed regularly from the age of 50. For people with a family history of colorectal cancer, colonoscopy is recommended starting at age 45.
Upper GI endoscopy
The purpose of this examination is to help diagnose and treat pathologies that affect the upper digestive tract (consisting of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum).
The average age for starting routine prostate examinations is 50 years (for men without risk factors) or 45 years (for men with a risk factor).
The most common examination is the digital rectal exam, which allows the physician to assess, among other things, the size and volume of the prostate. It is a very effective method of detecting a tumor, including its location, size and volume.
The prostate can also be examined by means of a blood test to measure the level of PSA (“Prostate Specific Antigen”). The higher the PSA level, the greater the suspicion of prostatic pathologies, namely :
- Prostate cancer;
- Prostatitis (acute or chronic);
- Urinary or genital infection;
- Occurrence of a urinary retention episode (trapped urine);
- Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH).
Urinalysis can provide important clues to a number of diseases, including those related to the kidneys and urinary tract. Many of these diseases may have no signs or symptoms.
Urinalysis can detect, for example, problems and diseases such as:
- Urinary tract inflammation or infection;
- Glomerular diseases (affecting blood filtration and urine production);
- Kidney damage caused by diabetes;
- Nephrotic syndrome (very large loss of protein through the urine);
- Proteinuria (abnormal amount of protein);
- Diabetes mellitus;
- Liver problems (liver).
Stool tests are used to detect bleeding in the digestive system by checking for occult blood in the stool, which may be related to mild irritation of little significance or the presence of cancer.
Sometimes blood is hidden in the stool, so it does not change in appearance. The performance of this laboratory analysis is therefore of great value in the early detection of ulcers, cancers or other changes.
Often overlooked, the dental examination is crucial. Indeed, oral diseases can play an important role in the loss of quality of life and even in the development of heart problems, cancers, diabetes and other diseases.
It is therefore extremely important to include dental checkups in the list of routine medical examinations. The ideal frequency will vary depending on the individual and the specific situation.
It should be emphasized that each evaluation should be individualized and discussed with your treating physician.
Take good care of your health!