Visits to the doctor or a health clinic to check on your state of health, or to monitor a child’s growth and development
Health checkups are an opportunity to talk about your or your child’s general health with a primary health-care specialist, such as a doctor or health visitor. In babies and infants, health checks tend to focus on healthy growth and development. In adults, checks are usually done to monitor disorders and their treatment or to screen for specific conditions. Pregnant women have regular health checks with their doctor or midwife as part of their antenatal care (see Routine antenatal care). You may also be offered a health check when you register with a new GP or may be required to have checkups for insurance purposes of when you begin a new job. Some employers and private health-care providers offer regular health checks as part of their general provisions. However, no health checkup can check for every possible illness or condition and it is therefore important to consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your health, even if you have recently had a health checkup.
Checkups in childhood
All newborn babies have a complete physical examination within 24 hours of their birth to identify potential problems. This examination includes listening to the baby’s heart for problems such as a heart murmur (see Congenital heart disease) and checking the eyes for abnormalities such as cataracts. Newborn babies are also given a blood spot screening test to check for certain congenital disorders, and a hearing test (see Hearing tests in children).
Until a child reaches school age, subsequent checkups are carried out at regular intervals by your doctor or a health visitor. These checks include monitoring physical growth by measuring weight, length, and head circumference. These measurements are recorded in a Personal Child Health Record book (known as “the red book”), which every mother is given shortly before or after her baby is born. This enables her to keep track of her child’s health and progress and is a useful source of information if her child needs medical care.
The purpose of preschool health checks is to ensure that the child’s physical, social, and intellectual development are progressing satisfactorily. Although the exact age at which children reach developmental milestones varies (see Gaining skills during the first five years), the doctor or health visitor will check that the child has gained certain skills within predicted age ranges. These include gross motor skills, such as the ability to sit up; fine motor skills, such as picking up a small object; and social skills, such as using language. Your child will also have regular hearing and vision tests.
On starting school, your child will be offered a school entry health check, which includes measuring height and weight and checking your child’s vision and hearing. Your child’s height and weight will be measured again at age 10 to 11. Your child will also have other checkups during his or her school years if he or she has a problem that needs monitoring.
Checkups in adults
Health checks in adults mainly rely on a few basic tests, such as measurement of blood pressure; on various screening tests to detect any early signs of certain diseases, such as breast cancer; and on questionnaires about lifestyle and health. Your doctor may also measure your height and weight and use those measurements to calculate your body mass index to check whether you are within a healthy weight range (see Are you a healthy weight?). Some GP practices run “well person clinics”, where, in addition to height, weight, and blood pressure checks, you may also be offered blood cholesterol checks, and urine tests to check for diabetes and kidney disease. As well as health checks provided by your doctor, there are also specialist sexual health clinics, where you can go to get checked (and treated) for sexually transmitted infections.
Acting on your checkup
Using the results of your checkup, your doctor will suggest ways in which you can maintain your health and promote your own or your child’s health. You can also discuss any health concerns you may have. You may need further tests if there are factors that increase your risk of disease, such as your lifestyle, family history, occupation, or travel abroad.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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