In your 40s certain conditions and illnesses become more common, which is why it’s important to be proactive with your health. Australian Medical Association Vice President, Dr Tony Bartone, provides advice on why early detection can make all the difference.
- Health checks continued from your 30s
Checking your blood pressure consistently in your 40s is essential. Healthy men should check annually, while women should check every two years. Hypertension, along with cholesterol levels, are key indicators of heart disease which kills one Australian every 12 minutes.
“Blood pressure creeping up can cause significant problems in our 40s and 50s,” cautions Dr Bartone. Which is why you should get a blood test routinely to monitor your cholesterol, and follow your doctor’s advice following. Other regular checks important in your 30s, should be maintained in your 40s. Skin checks, testicular exams for men and pelvic exams (particularly the human papillomavirus [HPV] test) for women, all play key roles in the early detection of melanoma, skin, testicular and cervical cancers.
Type 2 diabetes
Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in Australia, with around 100,000 people developing it in the past year alone. The progressive disease usually affects those aged over 45. “As we become less active we tend to show the effects of weight gain, which starts to become a problem around this age,” Dr Bartone reasons.
High blood pressure, weight gain and several other family or lifestyle factors can put you at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, which can cause complications like blindness and amputations. Your doctor may recommend you check your weight, body mass index (BMI) and sugar levels through a blood test, every one or two years.
Vision commonly deteriorates as your age advances, especially if you already wear glasses or contact lenses. Serious eye conditions like macular degeneration are also more likely to appear in midlife. “You are at greater risk of glaucoma, cataracts and eye disease after 40,” confirms Dr Bartone.
If you have no family history of glaucoma, have an optometrist examine your eyes for it when you turn 40. About 1 in 200 Australians have glaucoma at 40, which can cause blindness. It’s a good idea to get your eyes checked generally, every two to three years from thereon. “Get more frequent checks if you have any pre-existing conditions like diabetes … that can lead to diabetic retinopathy,” Dr Bartone adds.
Mammogram x-rays and ultrasound tests are often crucial to initially diagnose breast cancer. Since increasing age is one of the biggest factors in breast cancer, BreastScreen Australia offers screening every two years for women aged 40 and over.
“Certainly breast cancer doesn't respect age groups in terms of it only striking after 50,” Dr Bartone points out. “So any lumps or symptoms that you're uncertain of, present them to your doctor.” Weight gain, excessive alcohol consumption, along with a family history are all associated with a greater risk. Breast cancer accounts for an estimated 13% of all new cancer cases diagnosed in 2017.
Other ‘at risk’ diseases
If you have a family history of another chronic disease, your doctor may advise regularly screening for it from your 40s. For instance, a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or colonoscopy may be used to check for bowel or colorectal cancer. A Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test or digital rectal exam, can identify prostate cancer. Blood tests are also involved in detecting thyroid disease, anemia and liver diseases.
While many of these conditions commonly afflict people over 50, an early diagnosis for those at risk is important. “Testing is imperative … for example, over 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if detected early,” says Dr Bartone. The Australian government offers a health check to people aged 45 to 49 years who are at risk of developing a chronic disease.
Test timings are recommended as general guidelines only. If you have a family history or are at high risk of a disease, get checked more frequently according to your doctor’s advice.
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