Self-monitoring when Healthy

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There is a lot in the popular press and online about ways in which the concerned well person can keep an eye on their health. Depending where in the world – or even in which part of a country – you live, health checks and their frequency do differ widely, from comprehensive annual once-overs to nothing at all. There are many ways to keep an eye on your health, but there is a limit to how much is acceptable and doctors are trained to watch out for people who have become a little addicted to self-testing; this can be as pernicious as not checking at all.

The first thing anyone not experiencing symptoms should do is look at their family history. Obviously it is not the case that a negative family history for a condition is insurance that it won’t happen to you, but undoubtedly some things such as hypercholesterolemia and certain vascular problems do run in families. Certain kinds of breast cancers have a family link as well and of course some conditions such as Huntingdon’s Chorea are definitely inherited, so a family member will be watching for onset anyway, so this doesn’t really fall into the ‘self-check’ category.

Breast and testicle checks are something that most people do as a routine, but there are other checks which are not so easy to carry out and can be quite difficult for the layman to evaluate. These include tests such as blood glucose, cholesterol, prostate specific antigen and faecal occult blood. One of the first things to remember when carrying out any of these over the counter tests is that a negative does not mean nothing is wrong – in testing of this nature, only a positive test is really any help. A negative one simply means nothing is wrong right now – or possibly you have done the test wrong; techniques are not easy and the instructions which come with these tests are notoriously badly written. A positive result needs to be interpreted and especially in the cases of cholesterol and glucose if the fasting instructions have not been carried out to the letter or the fingerprick specimen was wrongly obtained, it could all be meaningless anyway.

Blood pressure monitoring should really only be done if a doctor suggests it. Becoming obsessed with blood pressure at all times of the day can only lead to worry – the pressure will vary with time of day and activity and every GP or family medicine practitioner has a whole cohort of patients who are genuinely made anxious by this practice, often to the extent of making themselves quite ill. The bottom line in all self-monitoring has to be moderation. If you have been told by your family doctor to keep an eye on a certain parameter, then proper measures should be taken to have a regular check by a professional – most practice nurses will do this. Following a healthy lifestyle and doing exercise in appropriate moderation is one of the best ways of taking your health care into your own hands.

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