Health & Wellbeing

Keeping illness in check - the importance of regular check-ups

When it comes to health, ignorance is not bliss. Like taxes, illnesses don't just go away if you ignore them - in fact, they can get more serious and more expensive to treat over time. We caught up with Melbourne GP Dr Vyom Sharma to get his tips for living a healthy lifestyle, and to find out how often you should be seeing your GP.

It’s common for people to skip a regular GP check-up if they feel fine, especially if they don’t know what they’re being tested for (and some tests like pap smears and prostate exams can be a little uncomfortable). But these tests can be crucial when it comes to ensuring you live a long and healthy life.

According to Dr Vyom Sharma, “Prevention beats cure every time. A huge chunk of a GP’s work doesn’t involve fixing problems, but doing all of the kinds of maintenance things which ensure your continued health.”

Having a GP who understands your lifestyle can be the most important thing, because they’ll be able to give you tips for a healthy lifestyle and keep an eye out for things that could be a risk in the future. 

Body health

You can always regulate your risk factors and alter your lifestyle. This could mean a leaner diet, more exercise or just less snacking. But regular health check-ups could reduce your chances of getting heart disease (Australia’s biggest cause of death) before you’ve even experienced any symptoms.

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But heart disease isn’t the only thing you need to be aware of. Diabetes is a growing problem for a lot of people in Australia, with 280 Australians developing diabetes every day.

And then there’s the matter of melanoma. The Australian sun is the cause for all sorts of skin problems, so to help prevent yourself from being one of the 13,283 estimated new cases of melanoma in 2016, take precautions in the sun, and visit your GP.

For early prevention of these kinds of bodily ailments, Dr Sharma suggests that having a regular ‘family GP’ can help you stay on top of your health.

“There’s a very important phrase we use in medicine called ‘continuity of care.’ There’s no question that people who stick to the same GP are healthier, since they know what’s normal for your body.”

Having a regular GP can also help you be across the regular health check-ups you can do from home. These include skin checks, monitoring your alcohol intake and breast health checks.

  • To find out more about what’s involved in a heart check-up, watch this video from the Heart Foundation Australia
  • Getting checked for diabetes is quick with a GP, and Diabetes Australia have a handy risk assessment test that you can do online in minutes
  • If you want to keep an eye on your skin yourself there is a guide from Cancer Council Australia, but see a doctor if something worries you

Mental health

It’s not just your body that reaps the benefits of regular GP visits, it’s also your mental state.

“Things that often get left off the list are mental health problems like stress, anxiety or depression, which are particularly important,” says Dr Sharma.

Having a doctor around to watch out for your mental state will allow you to identify these tricky conditions before they worsen. And with 45 per cent of all Australians expected to experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, it’s never been more important to have a helping hand.

Mental health is a growing concern for doctors in Australia, and something that patients can find it can be hard to talk about, so having a doctor who understands you can make those sensitive conversations much easier to start.

  • If you want to learn more about mental health issues, and the common risk factors check out these fact sheets from Beyond Blue.

Maternal health

Getting a regular GP is essential to anyone thinking about starting a family, not just for your own health, but the health of your children. A GP will smooth out the process, and give you feedback on the types of things you should be doing when you’re planning, trying for a family or when the little one arrives.

“Visiting a GP is particularly important for women planning to fall pregnant. They need to be regularly going before, during and after pregnancy,” says Dr Sharma.

So with all these factors to look out for, how many times should you be visiting your GP? Dr. Sharma says that the relationship between the GP and the patient is far more important than the concrete number of yearly visits. So find a good doctor that you trust, and they can help you manage your health for years to come.

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