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Health Check - what to measure?

2 watchers
Oct 2012
4:20pm, 26 Oct 2012
13272 posts
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Chris - it's not optional. as a male you'll be offered a cardiovascular risk screen somewhere beteween the ages of 40 and 70, and bowel cancer screening which starts at 60
Women get offered the same as well as cervical and breast screening
Oct 2012
4:31pm, 26 Oct 2012
6 posts
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My employer offers all employees a fairly extensive health check every 2 years. Got mine in a couple of weeks - it usually lasts 2-3 hours, at the Nuffield hospital in Cambridge.

The details of what is covered is given here (although they do vary slightly between men & women and add some tests for older people).

Not convinced it's a great use of medical professional's time - most people come away with a recommendation to eat better/exercise more/smoke & drink less that they surely could've worked out for themselves. That said, it picked up serious heart problems for a couple of colleagues. And its nice to have a bunch of data to track across the years....
Oct 2012
4:32pm, 26 Oct 2012
5446 posts
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Have a read of Ben Goldacre on mass screening
Oct 2012
6:01pm, 26 Oct 2012
22076 posts
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I don't know why someone who hasn't had an endocrine tumour and isn't injecting the entire Lance Armstrong pharmacopoeia would want to track those particular values either, Kieren. I assume the book was aimed at doping weightlifters or similar, rather than recreational joggers/iron-pumpers or your average hypochondriac on the street.
Oct 2012
6:30pm, 26 Oct 2012
3510 posts
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The book was quite interesing. Essentially its a smaple of one, the author, measuring quick ways to improve ones body, in a kind of 80:20% way. He then used the tests to measure what improved and what didn't. The book is quite massive and covers a range of things. It's worth a read even you don't agree with everyting - I didn't, that for sure but some parts were very interesting.

I have it on my kindle which, although handy, is particularly suited for flicking through like a paper book. If I had the paper version I'd skim through to give a better example
Oct 2012
6:58pm, 26 Oct 2012
13986 posts
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Most medical tests are used to detect disease, not track health. If you want that, you need to visit the Michele Ferrari/Francesco Conconi type clinic.

V'rap is right too, unless you have an endocrine tumour of some kind, almost all of those are not going to show much.
he tests for cardiac risk are very non-specific too. C-reactive protein for instance is known to rise before a heart attack. Your normal is less than five, before an MI (about a week) it will often rise, sometimes into the 8s or 9s. This however tells yo very little- its goes up if you have a cold, it goes up after trauma/injury of any kind- and in those situations it often rises much higher.

Generally, if it is worth screening for, it is already done. If it isn't worth screening for, the worried well can go to the private and get it done. Whole body MRI scans are available and will show 'defects' in many people, but the significance of those defects is questionable in the asymptomatic. Detection not only causes stress, it causes further investigation, often more invasive. The moment somebody starts sticking needles in you to find out a bit more about the 'probably benign' cyst detected at screening, the risk goes up massively- and whilst this is related to MRI screening rather than blood tests, this is exactly what you would get after you had your testosterone levels measured and they were found to be high,
Oct 2012
6:59pm, 26 Oct 2012
13987 posts
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And I hear that if you want to see Ferrari you need a Swiss bank account and a sham image rights contract.
Oct 2012
7:53pm, 26 Oct 2012
3511 posts
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Thanks JohnnyO. Are there any tests / metrics you consider worthwhile tracking over time?
Oct 2012
8:15pm, 26 Oct 2012
13993 posts
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I can only speak in terms of illness, not health, but I am not aware of any blood test that could indicate an improvement in 'health', even if measured longitudinally over many months and training episodes. Markers of specific disease do exist (PSA, beta-HCG, Ca199 etc), but without symptoms/signs or specific pre-existing risk factors they would be mostly meaningless.
I doubt that there is much research of any real value out there in terms of tracking health, but there will be any number of small scale studies measuring changes in blood or physiometric values in response to training regimes. Generalising these studies to a the population at large, or even subgroups such as 'recreational vaguely competitive runners' is almost impossible. If a large enough study of a marker of any worth did exist, we would probably all have heard of it as it would be a source of massive profit and the NHS would be lobbied to provide it.

I reckon your race times give you a better indication than anything else (or what you can lift, or how fast you can row etc).

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Maintained by Kieren
My employer is thinking of offering this as part of a flexible benefits package. The idea an an ann...

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