Make annual health screening a habit

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  • Thursday, 19 Dec 2019

It is wise to make it a routine to regularly check your general health condition.

Have you ever thought about what the priorities in your life are? Do you know what really matters to you – making more money, career advancement, more family time, kicking certain bad habits or picking up new activities?

For some people, these would certainly be on the top of their list.

However, let’s remember that it would also be beneficial to think of our health first, making it the top of our priority list. After all, without health, there’s little we can do to fulfil our hopes and dreams.

As saying goes,"Health is wealth". Therefore, it is wise to make it a routine to regularly check your general health condition such as body-mass index (BMI, based on height/weight measurements), blood pressure and pulse readings, and cholesterol as well as blood sugar levels.

Necessity of early screening

Early health screening can help detect certain diseases or other conditions early. Many studies have demonstrated that early detection will improve and provide better management and treatment plan, which will consequently increase the patient’s survival. Some of health screening tests that help in early detection include bone health/density, Hepatitis B and C screening and colorectal cancer (CRC) screening. Early screening, in particular colorectal cancer (CRC) is crucial as early detection has been shown to reduce the risk of getting CRC and increase survival among general population.

In Malaysia, CRC is the second most common cancer in men and the third most common in women. Generally, it is asymptomatic in the early stages, with no obvious symptoms to indicate the presence of the disease. Thus, most CRC patients are only diagnosed with this disease during the late stages, when the symptoms start appearing. This in turn leads to a poor outcome for patients to survive past the five-year mark.

The easiest form of early screening can be done using a test kit called faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which detects the presence of blood in stools (one of the symptoms of CRC) and it can be done at home. The tiny presence of blood which may not be apparent to the naked eye may also be caused by bleeding piles, ulcers or inflammation. If the test is positive, further investigations such as a colonoscopy and biopsy may be required to confirm the presence of suspected tumours.

Who should go for CRC screening (FOBT kit)

If you think you might be exhibiting CRC symptoms (eg, change of bowel habits, frequent gas pains, bloating or abdominal cramps, weight loss with unknown reasons) or have a family history for cancer, it is highly advisable to get a colonoscopy test done.

Resolutions for good gut health

Incorporate healthy habits into your daily lifestyle. This includes being more physically active or exercising daily, drinking more water, quitting smoking/vaping, and eating more fruits and veggies.

A major factor for good gut health is the gut microbiota – a large collection of microorganisms in the gut that plays a significant role in maintaining good digestive health. It is also the body’s first line of defence against infections and diseases.

Keep your gut microbiota healthy by eating foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in our gut and can be found in certain fibres from food such as bananas, shallots and such.

Probiotics help replenish the population of good bacteria in the gut and can be found in fermented foods such as tempeh, tapai pulut, and fermented dairy products such as yoghurt and cultured milk drinks. Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia conducted a research in 2018 on regular consumption of live cultured milk drinks containing L. acidophilus and L. paracasei. The results showed positive effects on the research subjects’ digestive health, including improvement in constipation symptoms and enhanced immune system. Nevertheless, more clinical trials are still ongoing worldwide to further explore the potentials of probiotics to complement the basics of good health.

Don’t be complacent

Although the majority of CRC patients are in the above-50 age range, it can also affect the younger age group and is not just an old man’s (or woman’s) disease. These days, this is also the case for many non-communicable diseases such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

Ignorance is not bliss – early screening helps detect problems or diseases early. One-off screening tests only reveal your health condition at that point in time, but only regular screening will allow your doctor to detect any abnormal condition that may develop after the previous screening. Early detection gives us more time to do something about it.

This article is courtesy of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society and VITAGEN Healthy Digestion Programme (VHDP), in conjunction with their World Digestive Health Day 2019.

Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan is a consultant physician and gastroenterologist and hepatology. He is also the Chairman of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society. He is not associated with, and does not endorse any brand or product.

For more details, contact 03-5632 3301.

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