As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Dr Ng Lee Beng, Senior Consultant from the Department of Family Medicine and Continuing Care at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), shares more.
It is common for the young to feel healthy and invincible. But feeling well doesn’t always equate to good health.
Damage within the body may already be taking place quietly – and result in
high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood glucose and
cholesterol levels, and if left untreated, can develop into more serious problems. That is why the
experts advise health screening to start early, BEFORE any symptoms appear.
levels of high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure are signs of "a gathering storm", said
Dr Ng Lee Beng, Senior Consultant,
Department of Family Medicine and Continuing Care,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
For example, blood vessels are silently getting damaged in
diabetes. Damage doesn’t start from the day of diagnosis, but way before. Diabetes if not controlled, can lead to organ complications like
heart attack (myocardial infarction),
kidney failure and leg amputations," said Dr Ng.
Picking up these silent risk factors offers a window of reversibility. For instance, dietary and lifestyle changes can help people diagnosed with
pre-diabetes turn back the clock. Pre-diabetes is a condition where the blood glucose level is higher than normal but below the threshold of what is considered diabetes.
People should look at health screening as a preventive, rather than a diagnostic, tool, Dr Ng added.
"The tests assess where you are now, and point you to the steps to take to optimise and maintain good health. One should not skip regular health screening or do nothing to optimise health till the day a disease is diagnosed."
As people age, they should also screen for commonly occurring cancers, as well as for any decline in their basic functions like hearing and vision.
Patients need to understand the significance of their test results, and make the connection between their current diet and inactivity to higher risks of chronic diseases like diabetes. This will spur motivate them to make lifestyle and diet modifications to reduce their risk factors. Sometimes seeing a doctor and taking their medicine regularly may already be necessary to keep their conditions under control. They also should not be overwhelmed by too many changes at one go. Instead, they should be offered practical steps.
"For example, I tell my patients – you can
start with 2 actions: – halve your rice and double your vegetables, filling half the plate with vegetables; and brisk walk for 30 minutes 3 days a week."
Even if screening results are within acceptable limits,
one should still follow a healthy diet to avoid gaining weight, and exercise to build cardiovascular fitness and maintain bone and muscle mass.
"Many people may have normal test results, and not be overweight yet, while on an unhealthy lifestyle," said Dr Ng.
However, as intake exceeds the requirements of an increasingly inactive lifestyle – e.g. for men who have completed their army commitments or deskbound office workers – the weight will pile on. In addition to putting on fat, for many, regardless of their weight range, year on year after 40, if they do not exercise, they lose muscle mass gradually, which leads to frailty," she said.
"They won’t realise it until 10 to 30 years later, when unsteadiness from a frail body, combined with giddiness (due to degeneration of the balancing system), medication side effects and other factors, lead to falls and fractures. So even those with no significant abnormal test results should embark on a healthy lifestyle to maintain strength and fitness."
If you do no other health screening tests, then do these at least.
18 to 40
Blood pressure (BP)
High blood pressure or hypertension may not lead to symptoms, yet increases the risk of heart problems and stroke.
Body mass index (BMI)
BMI is more useful than just weight alone as an indicator of healthy weight as it takes into consideration the height as well.
Waist hip ratio (WHR)
WHR measures truncal obesity or belly fat, which is related to cardiovascular disease. The apple-shaped body indicates risk for chronic diseases.
Pap smear for women
The possibility of
cervical cancer rises after the start of sexual activity.
41 to 69
In addition to the above tests for those 18 to 40
Fasting blood sugar levels
The amount of glucose in the blood screens for pre-diabetes or diabetes.
A complete cholesterol test is called a lipid panel and measures total cholesterol as well as "good" (HDL) and "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides - fat circulating in the blood vessels. High cholesterol increases the risk of
heart disease and stroke.
Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer for men and the second most common cancer for women. The faecal occult blood test looks for the presence of microscopic blood in the stool, which can suggest early signs of bowel cancer. If the test is positive, screening colonoscopy is recommended.
Mammogram for women
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women, but the chances of a cure are high if detected early.
Functional assessments of
vision, hearing, physical condition, mental capacity and mood
These tests assess physical status and capacity to manage daily routines, such as the ability to get up and go.
The Abbreviated Mental Test (AMT) looks for the possibility of dementia and other cognitive impairment. In depression screening, questions will be asked about feelings of depression and/or problems sleeping and eating.
By monitoring changes over time, they indicate presence and severity of disease and the need for care.
Now that you have an idea of when, and what to screen for, take charge of your own health and book your health screening today. Like the old adage goes – Prevention is better than cure! #healthiswealth
Check out other articles on health screening:
Tips for 5 Common Health Screening Tests
FAQs on Health Screening and Vaccination
Top 5 Health Enemies for Men
Men's Health Concerns and Screenings