…warn of dangers of self-medication

Amid a rising burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) leading to sudden and untimely deaths, experts in the medical and health sector have once again emphasised the crucial role of regular health checks in maintaining well-being and preventing serious health issues.

The experts also frowned at the culture of self-medication, where many individuals often rely on self-prescribed treatments without consulting healthcare professionals.

The said contrary to popular notions, not all stomach pains are symptoms of ulcer, loss of appetite is not necessarily caused by worms, and not every rise in body temperature, headache or feverish conditions are caused by malaria, and so individuals should seek proper medical examination before commencing treatment.

They further said the practice of self-medication, while sometimes driven by convenience and affordability, poses significant risks to individual health and public well-being.

Research shows that Nigeria, like other sub-Saharan African countries, is undergoing an epidemiological transition with a rising burden of NCDs.

Adelakun Odunyemi, Taslima Rahman & Khurshid Alam, in a 2023 article ‘Economic burden of non-communicable diseases on households in Nigeria: evidence from the Nigeria living standard survey 2018-19’, noted that nearly 30 per cent of all deaths in Nigeria are due to NCDs.

“The risk of premature death from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes among Nigeria’s 30 to 69-year-olds is 22%,” the scholars said.

This is why experts say health check-ups should not be just for when people feel unwell but are essential for early detection of potential health problems, allowing for timely intervention and treatment, especially in today’s fast-paced society where busy schedules and hectic lifestyles are the norm.

“We are having more people come down with those non-communicable diseases. These are a group of diseases that are not really spread from person to person. And what are the common ones we are talking about? Hypertension and diabetes, and then, cancers,” said the Resident Doctor in the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Dr. Samson Oshomoh.

“Now these diseases are increasing in number and many of them are usually silent, especially in the early stages, and the advantage of medical checkup is to be able to pick them up at the early stage and to be able to intervene and prevent what we call complications.

“By the time they are getting into their late stages, which are the stages where you have complications, you will be able to do next to nothing about it because the damage has already been done over the years,” he said in an interview with The Nigerian Observer.

Dr. Oshomah said there are individuals who have the inherent risk of having such diseases, like those who have had family history of hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, kidney diseases and the rest, as well as others who, though not having family history, are inherent risk in themselves as in the case of obesity, those who live sedentary lives, those that are not exercising regularly, and so on.

“I keep saying no-communicable diseases because these are the ones that barely have any symptoms. If you have malaria, you have HIV/ AIDS, you have some infectious diseases, they usually present with symptoms but hypertension, for example, is a silent killer. So until you check your BP, you may not know when it’s high. The first time the person will be hearing that he or she has high blood pressure is when he or she has had a stroke which is already a complication and could have been prevented by doing regular checks and starting your medications early enough,” he said.

Also speaking recently during the commemoration of the 2024 World Health Day, the Chief Medical Director, Asaba Specialist Hospital, Delta State, Dr Peace Ighosewe, sensitized the people on the importance of healthy habits and reasons why health should be prioritized.

Dr Ighosewe urged people to engage in regular physical exercise, eat a balanced diet, and go for routine medical checkups which will help to quickly detect any health issues on time so that early treatment can commence.

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On the prevalent culture of self-medication, the experts said it often stems from limited access to healthcare facilities, high healthcare costs, lack of health insurance coverage leading individuals to seek cheaper alternatives, lack of health education and misinformation about medications and their proper use, as well as beliefs and reliance on family or community advice.

But this has led to a lot of abuse, with a major underlying danger being antibiotics resistance, said Dr. Oshomah.

“If you just abuse those antibiotics, when you now have a condition that requires particular antibiotics, because the organism has been exposed to it repeatedly, the organism now develops what we call resistance. The organism is able to resist antibiotics even if you give it at the right dose because the organism, being a living thing, has some level of intelligence and develops resistance.

“You see a lot of people, especially the younger ones, even the older ones, who do a lot of manual labour or manual jobs start having repeated body pains. They take a lot of pain relievers. Elderly ones who have joint pains they call arthritis, they go to a nearby chemist to get any kind of pain relief, not knowing that there are some pain relief medications that can expose someone to internal bleeding within the gastrointestinal system. So they start coming down with passage of blood, some will start stooling and vomiting blood because of too much use of those pain relievers,” he said.

He further said medical checkups enable health practitioners to carry out proper assessment and administer medications with minimal risk, noting that the specific screening test an individual should undergo depends on age, exposure, sex and other parameters, while putting into consideration family medical history.

Relevant checkups and frequency

Experts advise that adults aged 18-50 should undergo medical checkup once a year and more frequently for individuals above 50 because there is an increased likelihood of developing those diseases. The medical checkup should include physical examination, blood pressure measurement, weight and BMI assessment, cholesterol and blood sugar screening, and overall health assessment.

Dental check-up should be undergone every six months for routine dental exams and cleanings as well as for oral health assessment, cavity detection, gum disease evaluation, and X-rays if necessary.

Eye examination is not limited to individuals with vision issues. Every 1-2 years for adults with no vision problems are advised to go form eye examinations, and more frequently for individuals with vision issues or risk factors. The checkup includes but is not limited to visual acuity testing, eye pressure measurement, eye muscle movement evaluation, and examination of the retina and optic nerve.

Blood pressure check-up should be done more frequently, at least two-three times a year for people with normal blood pressure (less than 120/80 mm Hg). More frequent monitoring is recommended for individuals with high blood pressure or risk factors. People taking anti-hypertensive medicine should check their blood pressure daily at least once a week.

For cholesterol screening, this should start from age 20, and every four-six years for individuals with normal cholesterol levels, while those at higher risk should go for more frequent testing.

Cancer screenings vary depending on age, gender, and risk factors. Mammogram for breast cancer screening is recommended every one-two years for women aged 40 and above.

Pap smears and HPV tests for cervical cancer screening are recommended every three-five years for women aged 21-65.

Colonoscopies for colorectal cancer screening are recommended every 10 years starting at age 50, or earlier for high-risk individuals.

Prostate screening test is recommended once in two-five years for males above 45 years.