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HEALTH: MOT YOUR BODY; If you're feeling a bit under the weather or just want to make sure you're in tip-top condition, taking these 10 essential health tests could help save your life...

Byline: Words: Lynne Michelle

Bone screening

What's the problem? One in three women will develop osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. Bone strength reaches its peak in our late 20s, but after that the living bone cells within the hard outer `shell' are lost faster than they can be replaced. You become more vulnerable after the menopause or a hysterectomy, due to the loss of oestrogen, but other risk factors include lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, high-protein diets and calcium deficiency.

What's the test? The DEXA scan technique, offered by specialist clinics, tests bone density using an X-ray - call the National Osteoporosis Society on 01761 471 771. The other option is an ultrasound scan which can detect osteoporosis without unnecessary radiation exposure. Mobile Screening Services offers fracture assessment in five minutes for pounds 25, call 01923 857 616.

Weight and fat

What's the problem? If you're overweight, you're at risk from heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, your body mass index alone (see below) doesn't take body fat into account. `Muscle weighs more than fat, so muscly people can get a false "overweight" BMI reading,' says fitness expert Matt Roberts*. `And slim people who don't exercise can have a worryingly high body fat percentage.' Also check your waist-to-hip ratio, as people who store flab around their middle are more vulnerable to heart disease.

What's the test? Calculate your body mass index (BMI) by dividing the square of your height in metres by your weight in kilograms. If your BMI is 25-30, you are overweight, and if it's 30+, you are obese. Get your body fat percentage checked by your doctor or gym, or invest in a body fat monitor such as Argos Tanita UM-023, pounds 49.99. For women, anything over 30% is too high (25% for men). Finally, divide your waist measurement by your hips. If it's more than 0.8 for women or 0.95 for men, you need to lose fat from your middle.

Smear test

What's the problem? Each year, there are around 3,500 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK. The disease develops in stages, beginning with pre-cancerous abnormalities in the cervical cells. Your risk is higher if you are infected with certain strains of the human papilloma virus (responsible for genital warts) or if you smoke. The pill slightly ups your risk too.

What's the test? All sexually active women are advised to have a smear test every 3-5 years to check for abnormal cells. The test involves taking cell samples from the cervix, using a small brush or stick. 90% of tests are negative but don't panic if you are asked to return for another test - there simply may not have been enough cells for an accurate reading.

Diabetes

What's the problem? It's estimated that a million people in the UK are undiagnosed diabetics. Diabetes occurs when the body can't use glucose (sugar) properly, and if left untreated it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputations.

What's the test? Lloyds Pharmacy is offering free in-store diabetes testing (0800 389 2578). The pharmacist takes a prick of blood from your finger and puts it on a testing strip which shows your glucose levels. The DIY option is a kit like Boots Diabetes Home Test, pounds 6, which can detect glucose in your urine. It can't diagnose diabetes but it can pick up on one of the earliest symptoms of the disease.

Chlamydia

What's the problem? Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection. There are often no noticeable symptoms, but if left untreated it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. It can only be cured with antibiotics.

What's the test? Some GPs offer a chlamydia check as part of your smear test. Otherwise get free testing via your doctor or at a GUM clinic (look in the phone book to find the one nearest you). You can also buy a home chlamydia test, pounds 45, from Wellbeing (0800 028 1082), which involves sending a urine sample to a lab for confidential results.

IMPROVE YOUR DIET

NUTRITION DEFICIENCIES

What's the problem? A good diet is essential for general health and body function. Alas, it's hard to get everything we need from a normal diet, and many aspects of the modern lifestyle, from stress to smoking and drinking, deplete our nutrient supply.

What's the test? Total Being (www.totalbeing.com) can pinpoint deficiencies via a hair testing service, pounds 79. You snip off a few locks, fill in a lifestyle questionnaire and three weeks later you receive a detailed nutrition profile. Included in the price is a consultation with a nutritionist who will prescribe a tailor-made diet and supplement programme to get you back in balance.

FOOD INTOLERANCE

What's the problem? True food allergies are rare and potentially life-threatening, but sensitivity to certain foods is very common. They can cause symptoms such as rashes, itching, swelling, lethargy, headaches, indigestion, bloating and diarrhoea.

What's the test? Food allergies can be diagnosed via skin prick tests or a blood test. However, both can be costly. If you suspect an intolerance, Allergy UK recommends YorkTest's Food Scan Service, pounds 19.99, (0800 074 6185) as a first step. Your pinprick blood sample is tested against all the most common food allergies simultaneously. If positive, you can have further tests to discover the culprit.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEART

BLOOD PRESSURE

What's the problem? Your heart could be, quite literally, a ticking timebomb. Heart disease is the UK's number one killer and high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the major risk factors. You're at risk if you are overweight, eat too much salt, don't exercise or drink too much alcohol.

What's the test? You can have your blood pressure checked for free at any Lloyds Pharmacy nationwide (0800 389 2578) if you don't have time to see your GP. The test takes five minutes and involves a strap-on monitor being attached to your arm to measure how effectively blood is being pumped in and out of the heart. Alternatively you can buy a DIY monitor such as Boots Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor, pounds 90.

CHOLESTEROL

What's the problem? Cholesterol, a type of fat made by the body, comes in two forms. HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol is good and flows away from the heart. LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol clogs up arteries and can lead to heart attack or strokes. High cholesterol is often inherited but other risk factors include a diet high in saturated fats, obesity, lack of exercise and excess drinking.

What's the test? Your doctor can test your cholesterol levels by taking a blood sample and checking your level of both good and bad cholesterol. Lloyds Pharmacies offers a finger pinprick test for pounds 10. You can also buy kits such as Boots Cholesterol Home Test, pounds 8.50, which involves pricking your finger and checking the reading against a colour chart, which indicates low, borderline or high cholesterol.

HOMOCYSTEINE

What's the problem? Homocysteine is a toxic amino acid that forms in the blood when the body breaks down proteins, a process which damages your arteries and brain. Researchers have linked high H levels to heart disease, premature ageing, stroke, migraines, diabetes and certain cancers.

What's the test? YorkTest's homocysteine test, pounds 75 - backed by the British Cardiac Patients' Association - involves sending a pinprick blood sample to a lab. If your levels are too high you can help reduce them by improving your diet and taking more B vitamins, zinc and folic acid.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 2, 2003
Words:1257
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