There are, however, more practical ways of staying abreast of your health. Medicine has reached a level where we can discern a baffling amount of information about how our bodies are functioning (or not). You might not be able to find out exactly how you will bump into the Grim Reaper but you can take an educated guess.
Randox last month launched a new health screening service, consisting of more than 180 tests, taking in factors including your blood, urine and bone profile, hormone levels and organ function. If there is something wrong, this should pick up on it.
Its clinic at Finsbury Circus is like a vision of the future from the 1960s – all pristine white moulded plastic and video screens showing pictures of blood cells. The exam, which involves giving blood and urine samples and undergoing lung, blood pressure and body composition tests, takes around half an hour. It was painless in all senses of the word – and it should be: this is high-end private health care, with prices to match. The top tier package costs £1,995, with an extra “stress test” coming in at £595, although lower grades with fewer bells and whistles are cheaper. Thanks to an innovative method of processing the tests, results are usually ready within a couple of days.
I once had a friend who, a few months after a trip to South Africa, developed pleurisy, which was unusual for someone his age. His doctor said it can be associated with HIV and gave him a blood test. Thankfully, it was negative but he said waiting for the results was the most stressful time of his life – like sitting his driving test all day, every day until they came through.
I wasn’t facing anything as potentially life-threatening as that – I’m 29 and my health profile is fairly standard for my age. I probably don’t do quite as much exercise as I should but I’m generally pretty fit. When the email landed, though, my heart rate went through the roof (which I interpreted as a sure sign I was headed for an imminent coronary episode). The document begins with your “results of interest” – essentially the tests you failed, highlighted in red. I completely flunked my vitamin D. I also have a very low level of something called Epidermal Growth Factor (I didn’t know what it was, but I assumed the worst) and a high level of lipoprotein (a). A Google search revealed this is related to high cholesterol. It sounded bad. I’ve never thought of myself as a hypochondriac but I was pretty sure I was about to find out I only had moments to live.
I had to wait 24 hours before a consultation with the clinic, in which the results were explained in a bit more detail (the clinic won’t make any diagnoses but will direct you to your GP if any of the results are of concern). My worries, it turned out, were mostly unjustified. There are no clinical problems associated with low EGF and my overall cholesterol profile was within healthy parameters. My heart, prostate and thyroid are all in pretty good nick. Even more reassuringly, given my fondness for a glass of wine or few, so are my kidneys and liver.
One of the problems with these tests, though, is that the human body is such an incredibly complex machine, that pulling away the curtain without properly understanding what all the levers do can be pretty stressful. Another is that a lot of the tests (the most important ones) can be carried out by a GP.
But like a lot of people, I’m unlikely to visit my GP unless something is quite severely wrong. I’m the guy who will wait until he collapses and is rushed to A&E. Seeing your failings laid out before you in bright red is a wake-up call, providing the motivation to get out and do something about them. If the tests had uncovered something more serious, of course, few people would begrudge the expense.
● To book a Randox Health Check call 020 7628 6278 or log on to www.randoxhealthchecks.com/uk/contact-us.php.