GB was 48 years old when he suddenly slumped and died. He was giving a pep talk to his marketing team before they started the routine work for the day. He only complained of severe headache prior to his sudden death. He was too young to die was the popular concern of his colleagues. His wife could not tell if he had been hypertensive or had any other disease that needed close monitoring.
VS was 39 years old when she complained of sudden chest pain with difficult breathing. She died while being rushed to the hospital. Autopsy revealed blood clot in her lung vessels. She was said to have been using combined oral contraceptive pills, which she got over the counter without the doctor’s prescription. A year earlier, she had been experiencing calf pains. She never sought proper care for it. If she had, she would have been advised to stop the pills which increased the risk of her forming blood clot that caused her death.
It is popular knowledge that Nigeria has one of the lowest life expectancy rates all over the world. Most men and women die at an average age below 50 years. This is ridiculously low right? Yes! It is, but the records are there to confirm this information. In Western countries, lifetime expectancy is very good; people die at an average age of 75 to 85 years, depending on the country being considered. Except a fatal accident occurs, people should not die suddenly. The body gives warnings most times, which are ignored.
Why is Nigeria different?
The simple answer is that we do not take responsibility to look after our health, as individuals, and as a national health system. Our cars get better treatment than our bodies. The protection the mobile phone gets makes our heart, lungs, and kidneys jealous. These vital organs are always pleading to be checked upon from time to time. We just do not bother. ‘‘Afterall, I am a child of God,’’ we assure ourselves. ‘‘No evil fashioned against me shall prosper,’’ others say. The same holy book also warns that, “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” Both spiritual death and also physical death (in the context of my write up today). Ironically, the knowledge has always been there. We, Nigerians, and some other people in various countries, have chosen to be skeptical, indecisive, and mythical.
What is the way forward?
It is sad to admit that Nigeria is a poor country. Nevertheless, we can still live healthy. What are the basic health check that everyone, irrespective of their financial status, must carry out in order to increase our lifetime expectancy to 80s? People can save towards the cost of these examinations or investigations before any preventable emergency occurs.
Both men and women are required to do the following.
- Physical evaluation by the medical doctor who will listen to the clients’ complaints. The blood pressure, weight, all organs and systems, are examined during this single visit
- Blood sugar tests (annually or more often depending on what was obtained at the first check).
- Kidney function test. This is a basic test done through evaluation of the blood and urine samples from the individual.
- Blood fat levels.
- Some notifiable infectious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis, et cetera depending on the burden of other diseases in the country.
- Chest X ray may or may not be ordered to evaluate the lungs and also the heart.
- Stool tests for occult blood. This is a very simple test to screen for cancer of the large intestine.
Men, especially those at least 40 years old, are expected to do the following
- Yearly rectal examination to screen for enlargement of the prostate gland which may or may not be cancerous.
- Prostate Specific Antigen. Blood sample is drawn for this test. Highly elevated levels will raise a suspicion of cancer of the prostate gland.
Women should have the following done.
- Clinical breast examination.
- A breast scan to rule out breast lumps may be necessary if there is any suspicion during the clinical breast examination. Mammogram may be recommended to further screen for breast cancer especially in women at least 40 years old.
Every lady above pubertal age should do a breast self-examination. This will help her to be familiar with the normal structure of the breast. Hence, if any abnormality arises, it can be detected early.
- Pap smear test. This is essential to rule out cancer of the cervix.
Other investigations can be ordered depending on any finding detected during the physical examination by the medical doctor.
Go… and live a fulfilled life.
Image credit: Jerusalem house
Dr Ademola Orolu is a Consultant Family Physician. He holds the Fellowship of The West African College of Physicians. He is also an Associate Fellow of The National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria. He is in active clinical practice. He is a writer, a patient advocate, and has a passion for health education. He is the Medical Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nathaniel Health Consulting (a family hospital), Matogun, Ogun State. He is the editor-in-chief of The Family Doctors. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org