by Marian Mestanek

My children accuse me of being a hypochondriac and they are quite right. I have been an unashamed one since I trained as a nurse in the sixties and though having a terrible memory, managed to remember every dire symptom known to woman and to a lesser extent, man, for men tend to rely on women to send them to the doctor’s.

I was quite capable of psychosomatically developing the symptoms of the diseases special to the ward I was working on and was never more happy than when I was working on the men’s genito urinary ward, safe from symptoms at last.

Many of the health checks we regard as normal procedure now had not been developed back then; lives were lost as a result and people, in particular hypochondriacs, suffered needlessly.

These days, the hypochondriac and indeed, the laid back optimist too, have a smorgasbord of health checks to choose from which have already saved countless lives and reassured the worried that they are perfectly healthy.

The aim of regular health checks is to catch any problem as early as possible when it is very treatable and curable. It is also the case that if you have any symptoms that you are worried about in between checks, your doctor will be pleased to discuss them with you. Don’t self diagnose, for many diseases have similar symptoms, some benign, some less so. Remember that most of the time your fears will be groundless and the faster you go to your doctor, the faster you will be reassured.

With all health checks, if you have a family history of a particular disease, you may need tests more often than those who don’t.

It has been scientifically proven that certain serious health problems can be avoided by eating healthily, keeping your weight down, exercising, avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, and using sun protection. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that.

Below are  just a few of the many tests that you are advised to have conducted regularly, that could prevent serious illness or even death.

Breast Screening for women over 40 years

BreastScreen NSW HNE are encouraging women to put their health and wellbeing first and get screened to save lives. Women over 40 are eligible for a free mammogram every two years. Women 50-74 years are particularly encouraged to have regular breast screening. Call 132 050 or you can book online at book.breastscreen.nsw.gov.au

Cervical Screening Test for women over 25 years

This simple test literally takes two minutes and could save your life. Cancer Council encourages all women to talk to their mum, sisters, aunts and friends about cervical screening. Women who had a normal Pap smear test in the two years before 1 December 2017 should do their first Cervical Screening Test two years after their last Pap smear. For more information, visit www.cancer.org.au

Skin Cancer Screening yearly for those at risk

Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer. Of course sun protection is essential to prevention. Applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and protective clothing and seeking shade in the hottest parts of the day are vital. Cancer Council recommends all adults should check their skin and moles every three months. Those at risk should have a trained doctor examine them at least once a year. Learn how to check for the signs of skin cancer and what to look for at www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/check-for-signs-of-skin-cancer.html

Bulk Billed Eye Exams every two years for those over the age of 16

Specsavers advise that it’s best to have an eye examination every two years, or attend even sooner if your are experiencing eye problems. Eye tests don’t just assess your vision, they can also pick up other problems, such as age-related macular degeneration, where the central part of the back of the eye stops working and you lose vision directly in front of you, cataracts, which cloud your vision, and glaucoma, in which fluid builds up inside the eye, can all be detected by routine eye tests. Some of these conditions are more treatable than others. Women over the age of 40 will likely experience a more noticeable impact on the eyes, particularly eye strain. If you are an Australian resident with a current Medicare card, your eye tests are at no additional cost to you once every two years.

Influenza (Flu) Vaccinations every year

Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), you can get the influenza vaccine for free if you are pregnant, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over, people aged 6 months or over who have medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of getting serious disease and anyone over the age of 65 years. Anyone who wants to protect themselves against influenza can talk to their doctor about getting immunised. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you from serious disease. For more information, visit beta.health.gov.au/services/flu-influenza-immunisation-service

Of course there are many more preventative measures you can take to protect yourself against disease. Real Women of Port Stephens magazine encourages you to take charge of your health, educate yourself on what tests are available and relevant for you, and encourage other women you know to do the same.