As with every year, I ended 2023 with a comprehensive health check-up. This helps me take stock of my health balance sheet at the end of the year. It also helps to plan my health goals for the upcoming year, throwing light on the direction and path that needs to be taken, and the parameters I need to focus on.
Why Go For Annual Health Checkups?
“I feel fine! Why should I go for a health check-up?”
If you have tried this argument to wangle out of a health check-up, do remember that conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, dyslipidemia (elevated cholesterol levels), thyroid disturbances, and early stage of most chronic diseases have no symptoms, and a screening or check-up is the only way to detect them. Regular check-ups can help in early detection allowing for timely intervention and treatment. This can be crucial in preventing the progression of certain diseases. For example, it is easier to manage prediabetes or early diabetes stage with dietary and lifestyle interventions.
Having regular check-ups allows your doctors to establish a baseline of your health status. This baseline can be useful in tracking changes over time and identifying deviations from the norm. If you are someone who goes for annual health checkups regularly, it is useful to track your health using these reports by maintaining an Excel sheet or using one of the several health tracking apps.
The 40s and 50s are when chronic diseases pave their way into our body and doing an annual health screening is a good way to stay on top of this.
Knowing that you are in good health or addressing health concerns promptly can provide peace of mind and reduce anxiety about potential health issues. It is also a good incentive or a trigger to adopt healthier habits like walking more, and cutting out alcohol and ultra-processed foods from your diet.
An annual health checkup is also a good opportunity for the doctors to assess your immunization status and schedule any required vaccines depending on your lifestyle and needs.
From a public health perspective, encouraging regular health check-ups contributes to preventive healthcare, enabling early detection and intervention, which can reduce the burden of disease on both individuals and the healthcare system.
Categories Of Health Checkups
The necessity of regular health check-ups depends on various factors, including an individual's age, gender, medical history, risk factors, and overall health status.
While most tests are common for men and women, the difference in health indices is due to reproductive anatomy, hormones, and metabolism. The social and behavioural factors also play out their differences in men and women leading to a gender gap in health. Broadly speaking, mammograms, PAP smears and ultrasound of the reproductive system are a part of women’s tests, and PSA (prostate-specific antigen to help detect prostate cancer) is added to men’s tests. For infants, children, and adolescents, regular paediatric check-ups are crucial for monitoring growth, development, and vaccination schedules.
Individuals with a family history of specific medical conditions may be advised to undergo more frequent health screenings to detect potential genetic predispositions.
Each preventive health screening has a different frequency, which can make things seem complicated. But as a rule, the more affordable non-invasive and low or no-risk screenings like blood tests and ultrasounds can be done on an annual basis. This chart from UCLA provides valuable at-a-glance information on some of the preventive health screenings by age and the frequency advised for each.
Tests Recommended For Different Age Groups
The Cost Of Annual Health Checkups
The cost of an annual health check varies from Rs 1,000 for basic screening tests to over Rs 18,000 which provides complete screening for lifestyle diseases and cancers including a body composition test. Some panels focus on genetic screenings for lifestyle diseases and cancers as well as nutrition panels that test for deficiencies, vitamins and mineral absorption, food sensitivities, and so on.
Under your health insurance plan, you may be eligible for a free annual health checkup that you may need to be made aware of so speak to your insurance provider to find out. It may offer somewhat fewer tests than a paid comprehensive check, but it is a good enough place to start.
Several companies also provide an annual health checkup plan for employees and their families as a part of their wellness initiatives. In-campus health checkups also contribute to employee health.
The Flip Side
While there is no doubt that regular health checkups come with a lot of benefits, they have a time and cost investment and can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Screening tests are not always perfect with the potential for false positives and negatives. False positives can lead to anxiety while false negatives can cause a false sense of security. Most hospitals and laboratories provide general packages for age groups, but health needs vary greatly between individuals and health checkups need to be tailor-made based on the individual's needs, lifestyle, family history, and circumstances.
Regular communication with your physician is the best way to determine the appropriate frequency and types of health assessments based on your unique health profile. This promotes a proactive approach to personal well-being leading to better overall health outcomes in the long-term.