KUALA LUMPUR: A Family Medicine Specialist has reiterated the call for Malaysians to undergo health screening early to detect risks so that treatment can be started earlier to control chronic diseases better and avoid complications.

Dr Beh Hooi Chin, from the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), cited how screening for conditions such as diabetes mellitus and high cholesterol which are increasingly prevalent in Malaysia can be initiated as early as 18 years old.

This is especially for those who are having risk factors such as being overweight or obese, physically inactive, both parents or siblings having hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

Besides doing it early, the frequency for screening might change based on these personal risk factors, she said when touching on the topic “Primary Healthcare: Screening for Chronic Diseases,“ during “The Brief” programme aired over Bernama TV recently.

The maxim that prevention - or rather screening, is better than cure holds true as there were many types of chronic diseases affecting the Malaysian populace, she said.

Dr Beh said most Malaysians should go to nearby government health clinics to be assessed and screened while those who could afford it could go to private clinics and private hospitals.

Besides diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol), she said there were conditions such as stroke, heart disease, overweight or obesity, depression, osteoporosis, breast and cervical cancer, prostrate problems and anaemia.

“By screening those diseases early, we may prevent, or delay complications that arise from these diseases.”

Since health screening was so important, she said UMMC’s Department of Primary Care Medicine would organise a hypertension screening campaign from June 6-9, 2023, at the hospital.

“We are going to have a few activities such as group exercises, cooking demonstration, webinars and continuous medical education (CME) related to health screening particularly on hypertension during the campaign, while blood pressure screenings will also be available. We also provide lifestyle advice and counselling to the patients or the public who come to the campaign.”

Those interested can surf the UMMC website for more details.

“Screenings are not limited to cancers only, nowadays we are recommending screening for other chronic diseases as well,“ Dr Beh said.

According to National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 (NHMS 2019), the highest prevalence of non-communicable disease was being overweight or obese whereby one in two adults in Malaysia were overweight or obese.

This was followed by high cholesterol where four in 10 people in Malaysia have raised total cholesterol levels.

Also, three in 10 or 6.4 million people in Malaysia were diagnosed with hypertension while one in five adults has diabetes or about 3.9 million people aged 18 years and above have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Dr Beh said: “Screenings are medical tests or well known as investigations that we use to check for diseases or other health conditions before any signs and symptoms occur.”

“Screenings help to find problems early when they may be easier to be treated and getting recommended screening is one of the important things you can do for your health,“ she said.

For the elderly, guidelines recommend screening for osteoporosis at the age of 65 for female and 70 for male but screening could start earlier depending on the risk factors.

Turning to depression, she said the condition was not always obvious as some people might purposely hide the symptoms from people around them, concealing the problem so well until they themselves might hardly recognise it.

Therefore, screening for depression is opportunistic and purposive whenever an individual presents him or herself to a health care centre.

For cardiovascular conditions, screening should start at age 40 by checking blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol as well as a full assessment done prior to screening which should be individualized.

High blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) which is the leading cause of death in Malaysia, according to NHMS 2019.

Since health is one’s responsibility, the survey suggests that Malaysians should control their blood pressure, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking and reduce harmful use of alcohol.

According to the survey, one in four Malaysians were not physically active and recommended that individuals should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.

Even more unfortunate was that 95 per cent of Malaysian adults do not eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.

One in two women aged 18 and above do not practice Breast Self-Examination (BSE) and 60 per cent of women aged 20 and above do not undergo pap smear tests to check for cervical cancer, in the past three years., Dr Beh said. - Bernama