Sexually Transmitted Infections – An rapidly evolving danger

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There was a time when the worst things about having a sexually transmitted disease (or STD), were the physical discomfort from the symptoms and the embarrassment and stigma of having the condition. How times have changed!!


For starters, they’re not called venereal diseases or STDs anymore – they’re now known as Sexually Transmitted Infections or STI’s. More importantly, viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Herpes have changed the STI landscape such that debilitating chronic illness, cancers, and even death are possible outcomes of having an STI. It is also now known that both Ebola and Zika viruses can be transmitted through sexual intercourse because they’re present in the semen of infected men.


STIs or STDs, also known as venereal diseases, are infections or diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact – usually spread by having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Bacteria, viruses, or parasites that exist on the skin or mucus membranes of the male or female genital area can be transmitted. During sexual intercourse, certain organisms present in semen, vaginal secretions, saliva or blood, can also be transmitted from one person to another.

It may surprise you, that it is possible to get some STIs, such as syphilis, herpes, and genital lice from physical genital contact only, without actual sexual intercourse.


Why are STIs important?


There are different kinds of STIs and some are more serious than others. STIs are more than just infections of the genital tract. Most STIs cause damage to other parts of the body as well. If not detected and treated early, they can lead to serious complications. Some STIs are curable but others are NOT and can only be managed with the right medications.


STIs like HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Human Papilloma Virus and Syphilis can cause death:

  • HIV – AIDS, organ failure, cancers
  • Genital Herpes – death of infected newborn from overwhelming sepsis
  • Hepatitis B and C – Liver failure, Liver cancer
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – cervical, penis, anus, mouth and throat cancers
  • Syphilis – brain and heart damage


To complicate matters more, some STIs can also be transmitted by non-sexual routes, making them easier to spread. HIV, Syphilis, Zika, Hep B & C, HIV and Genital Herpes also spread:


  • Mother to child
    • Before and during childbirth
    • From a breastfeeding woman to her baby
  • Through the use of unsterilized IV needles
  • Through blood transfusions and other infected body fluids


Who is at risk for STIs?

If you think only promiscuous people and prostitutes get STIs, you’d be wrong. Any one having unprotected sex is at risk of STIs. Having multiple sexual partners also puts you at risk. If you think about that, any one who began sexual activity before age 21, has more than a couple of sexual partners by age 30, and has had unprotected sex at any point, already places his or herself at risk for STIs. If you’re having unprotected sex because you think you’re in a monogamous relationship but your partner is having sex with other people, you’re at risk.

If you’ve had an STI or currently have one, you’re at higher risk of getting other STIs. Men who have sex with other men are another group at risk for STIs.

STIs in women

STIs cause serious health problems in women including infertility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and damage to the newborn from exposure in pregnancy to infections like syphilis, Zika, Hepatitis B & C, HIV, and Genital Herpes.


  • If a mother contracts an STI, she can pass it on to her child before, during or after childbirth
  • Untreated syphilis in pregnant women results in infant death up to 40% of the time
  • Women have a higher risk than men of getting an STI during unprotected vaginal sex


In our next post we’ll look at barriers to treatment and what we can do to prevent STIs.

Recognizing Stoke

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A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. If blood flow is cut off for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get needed blood and oxygen. Part of the brain can die, causing brain damage.

In Nigeria, one third of people die within the first 7 days after a stroke and a little less than half die within 6 months. Most stroke survivors (85%) are left with problems moving, thinking, and talking which may improve in the weeks to months after a stroke. For many, complete recovery never happens and they’re left with permanent disability.

Would you know if someone is having a stroke?

The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged. In some cases, a person may not know that a stroke has occurred.

Most of the time, symptoms develop suddenly and without warning. If you’re lucky, symptoms may occur on and off for the first day or two allowing time to seek medical attention. Knowing what the symptoms are is really important and may be the difference between life and death for you or a loved one. Symptoms are usually most severe when the stroke first happens, but they may slowly get worse:

Change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness, and coma)

  • Trouble with walking – Stumbling or sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.

Trouble with speaking and understanding – Confusion, slurred words or difficulty understanding speech.

Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg – Sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. Try to raise both arms over the head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, it may be a stroke. Similarly, one side of the mouth may droop a smile is attempted.

Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes – sudden blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or seeing double.

  • Lack of control over the bladder or bowels

Headache – Sudden, severe headache, with vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness. The headache interrupts sleep and worsens with change in position, bend, strain, or cough.


Ignore warning signs at your peril

Stroke isn’t something that happens to old people or other people – it can happen to you.


  1. The single most important thing you can do to prevent stroke is to control your blood pressure. Know what your blood pressure is, and if you have high blood pressure partner with your doctor to treat it properly. Regular check ups with your doctor are important.
  2. If you have high blood pressure you should receive monthly blood pressure tests from the hospital, health center or clinic. If you can afford it, it’s worth buying a small blood pressure measuring kit from a pharmacy and being taught how to take your own blood pressure weekly.
  3. The best way to prevent stroke from high blood pressure and diabetes is to take steps to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. These steps include a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, which include healthy eating, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol.
  4. Know the signs and symptoms of Stroke: FAST

Facial droop

Arm weakness or drift

Slurred speech

Time is brain…seek medical help immediately

Is there Stroke in your family? By Dr Biodun Ogungbo

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Stroke is sudden weakness of an arm, or leg, sudden blindness, sudden confusion, sudden problems with speaking, difficulty walking, sudden severe headaches, sudden collapse and death. Stroke is due to blockage of a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain, leading to injury or death of that part of the brain. Stroke also occurs when a blood vessel bursts open inside the brain. This is why it occurs ‘suddenly’ as the tap carrying food to the brain gets turned off! In both situations, the brain does not get the food and oxygen it requires.

Stroke: Time is brain

Stroke, is an emergency and requires immediate action to prevent brain damage and death. Stroke causes injury because vital nutrients are not delivered to the brain; and so brain tissue dies. This happens in real  strokes, but there are also minor strokes, partial strokes in which the brain does not die or become permanently injured. These people recover almost perfect function. But, see below.

Stroke: Big or small


Minor strokes, mini-strokes, small strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are one and the same. TIAs are common events characterized by stroke symptoms that completely resolve. They were previously thought to be benign but research over the past decade has revealed the high risk of further strokes in these patients. Having a TIA is a risk factor for having a major stroke.


TIAs and strokes cause the same symptoms, such as paralysis (opposite side of body from the affected part of the brain) or sudden weakness or numbness. A TIA may also cause sudden dimming or loss of vision slurred speech and mental confusion. But unlike a stroke, the symptoms of a TIA can resolve within a few minutes or 24 hours. Brain injury may still occur in a TIA lasting only a few minutes, therefore it should not be ignored by patients, relatives or doctors. Small stroke is a warning from God!


Stroke is common in Nigeria


Every Nigerian knows someone within their family, on their street, at their place of work, village or town who has suffered a stroke. Stroke is next door and coming to a street near you! It is the most popular horror movie in life. That someone hale and hearty could suddenly go blind, deaf, become mute, have weakness on one side and die without prior warning is your worst nightmare. Stroke is a devastating illness, which maims and kills Nigerians daily.


Is there stroke in your family?

Has a member of your family suffered a stroke? Mine have, in large numbers. Many people in my family have suffered devastating strokes and I am trying everyday to prevent stroke in myself. I run, jog, do sports, exercise and watch what I eat on a daily basis. Any indulgence, eating the biggest meat in the pot, the most amount of food, fat or oily food etc is frowned at in my family.


The risk of further strokes in higher in families with a history of stroke. If your father, brother or sister has had a stroke, be very careful. Similarly, history of hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks are important as risk factors for stroke in the family.


Can you afford a stroke?


We are not managing stroke well at all. We do not have the emergency numbers and ambulance services to deliver patients to hospitals within an hour of a stroke, so doctors can at least try to reopen the blocked vessels in the brain. We do not have the clot bursting drugs for removing the obstruction. Brain scans and other required tests cost an arm and a leg (pun intended). We do not have the means to investigate and treat acute stroke without asking for money.


So, if you come to one of Nigeria’s premier hospitals without as much as N100, 000 (One hundred thousand Naira), you may not get the immediate life saving care you need. Many come with just prayers and a breath expecting miracles.


Open a stroke account


It is vital to prevent stroke. If you don’t, you might as well open an account where you can save money should you suffer a stroke! The minimum deposit is N100, 000 but please save as much as N3, 000, 000. (three million Naira only). Regardless, just because you can afford it, is no excuse to have a stroke! What if you cannot write a cheque or even remember the account password? So, please look after your blood pressure, control diabetes, stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and keep fit.


Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon in Abuja is a UK General Medical Council Registered Specialist in Neurosurgery and Nigerian Medical and Dental Council registered Surgeon. He has extensive surgical repertoire in elective and emergency surgery. He supports medical education and is active in health advocacy. He is interested in stroke and spine problems and has written extensively about these conditions.

Deworming – Is it really necessary?

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Sometimes, even with a clean environment and proper precautions, children can get infected by parasites such as tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm and pinworm and whipworms. Away from home, children are often exposed to contaminated environments in school, daycare, at the playground and in other people’s homes. Worm infections have severe health implications in parts of the world where it is endemic.


How worms damage your child’s health

Worm infections can cause major health problems for young children.

  • The worms use up the vitamins and nutrients that children need for growth.
  • This can then lead to malnutrition, low weight, Iron and Vitamin A deficiency and anaemia.
  • This ultimately harms the infected children’s future physical and intellectual development.
  • They cause loss of appetite, leading to reduced food intake, which further affects physical growth and development.
  • Infected children also are more prone to illness, as their immune systems are damaged.

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Deworming simply means treating your child with a one-dose medicine to either treat an existing worm infection or to protect against potential infection. Deworming protects your child from the potentially devastating effects of worm infestation on physical growth and mental development.


For years, the WHO has recommended treating children from 13 months old, with anti-helminthics (worm-killing drugs) every 6 months in endemic areas of the world. This covers much of Africa and Asia. Deworming is not recommended for children less than 1 year old.


Deworming drugs kill adult worms, but do not kill the eggs. It’s therefore important to repeat the treatment every six months. Deworming medicines for children should be based on your child’s age and weight so it’s not advisable to simply pick up a generic brand and dose at the local chemist. It is safer to have your doctor prescribe the appropriate medicine and dosage for your child.

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How to prevent worm infestation


You can limit your children’s risk of getting infected by worms by taking some simple measures. Make sure they:


  • Wash hands well with soap after playing outdoors or with pets and before each meal
  • Do not eat unwashed salads, fruits and vegetables
  • Do not eat under-cooked meat
  • Do not play barefoot when outside or at daycare or school
  • Swim only where the hygiene standards are met
  • Only drink water that is boiled, bottled or filtered
  • Do not share water bottles in school


Keep your home environment clean and provide proper sanitation if at all possible.


If you have a household help who is in constant contact with your child, do ensure she keeps good hygiene as well. It might not be a bad idea to recommend that she deworms herself too.


What’s the big deal about worms?

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Do you know that the tummy pain and vomiting on and off that your child has had for a few weeks could quite possibly be because of worm infestation?


Sometimes, even with a clean environment and proper precautions, children can get infected by parasites such as tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm and pinworm and whipworms. The bottom line is that away from home, children are often exposed to contaminated environments in school, daycare, at the playground and in other people’s homes.


Who’s at risk for worm infestation?

Sub-Saharan Africa is endemic for soil and water borne worm infestation. Children tend to be most affected, as their immune systems are weaker than those of adults. Pregnant women and women of childbearing age are also at risk.


What are the symptoms?

Usually there are no symptoms or the symptoms may be so mild that they are often overlooked. But a child with worms may have a tummy ache, weight loss and may be irritable.


Other common signs can include:

  • Loss of appetite due to the pain or discomfort in the tummy
  • Anemia – especially with hookworms
  • Rash – particularly hives
  • Nausea
  • Itching or pain around the anus
  • Difficulty sleeping because of the itchiness
  • Painful and frequent urination due to urinary tract infection – this is more common in girls
  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting – children can vomit out round worms, though rare.
  • Diarrhea – usually with whipworm infection.


The many ways your child can be infected by worms


The infection, is transmitted by worm eggs excreted in the faeces of infected humans which cause contamination in areas where proper sanitation is lacking and good hygiene is not practiced.


Infected soil

This is the most common way children get worms. Worms thrive in any soil that is dirty and damp. Children can get infected from walking barefoot on infected soil, from unclean hands or from food.


Infected water areas

Some types of worms breed in water. They can be found in lakes, dams and puddles. Playing, bathing and swimming in these areas, or drinking and eating food contaminated by the water, can cause a worm infection.


Undercooked or infected food

Worm eggs stay on plants and vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed. Anyone can be infected, by eating these vegetables, including animals that live along water areas, such as fish and cattle. Meat and fish that are raw, or not well cooked, can carry worms and infections.


Contact with an infected person

An infected person who is in contact with your child can pass the infection on to your child if they do not maintain proper hygiene. Worm eggs can remain beneath fingernails or on badly washed hands and can pass on from there to your child’s toys or directly into the mouth.


In our next post we’ll discuss prevention.

How a little infection can kill you (2) By Dr. Biodun Ogungbo

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The most minor infections can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is an extremely serious condition, due to an overwhelming reaction of the body to infection. The infection causes the body to release chemicals as a defence mechanism. However, the chemicals themselves can cause widespread inflammation, which can then damage the body organs and cause death. Sepsis is a medical emergency.


Anyone can get sepsis, but the elderly, young children and those who have diminished immunity as a result of some other medical condition, are particularly at risk.

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How is it treated?

  1. Broad-spectrum antibiotics – these are medicines that kill many types of bacteria.
  2. Oxygen and intravenous fluids

The truth is that a little infection can lead to much misery and death if ignored. A little thing like the flu, common cold, catarrh, mosquito bite, bug bite and even that nail puncture can be the harbinger of misfortune. A man who stepped on a fish bone nearly died 2 weeks later from sepsis through the tiny wound on the sole of his feet! Carelessness can be perilous.

Sometimes, it is self medication, a visit to the local chemist or an unsuspecting medical doctor that makes a little issue assume mammoth proportions. Sometimes, it is ignorance and nonchalance that compounds the problem. Sometimes, it is articles like this that save lives.

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What should you do if you think you have an infection or sepsis?

  • Go to the emergency room immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or sepsis. THIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.
  • It’s important that you say, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
  • If you are continuing to feel worse or not getting better in the days after any kind of surgery, ask your doctor about sepsis. Sepsis is a common complication of people hospitalized for other reasons.


What you can do to prevent sepsis

  • Get yourself and your children vaccinated against pneumonia, and any other infections that could lead to sepsis. Talk to your doctor for more information.
  • Prevent infections that can lead to sepsis by:
    • Cleaning scrapes, cuts and wounds properly
    • Practicing good hygiene (e.g., hand washing, bathing regularly)
  • If you have an infection, look for signs like: fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion, and disorientation.

Guidelines for what to do in case of infection and to prevent sepsis are from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon in Abuja is a UK General Medical Council Registered Specialist in Neurosurgery and Nigerian Medical and Dental Council registered Surgeon. He has extensive surgical repertoire in elective and emergency surgery. He supports medical education and is active in health advocacy. He is interested in stroke and spine problems and has written extensively about these conditions.


How a little infection can kill you (1) By Dr. Biodun Ogungbo

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A teenage girl woke up one day with a swollen red eye. She had a bout of flu, cough and catarrh the previous week. The cold was almost all gone when this new problem started. So, off she went to the ophthalmologist who diagnosed an eye infection and started antibiotics. It did not get better and she was taken to see another ophthalmologist for a second opinion.


By this time, the forehead was involved, her head hurt and she had a fever. The ophthalmologist recognised that this was not just a simple eye infection and referred her for neurological evaluation, admission and care. This turned out to be the life saving decision because shortly afterwards, she stopped talking and went into coma. An urgent brain scan revealed that she had infection of the eye and the sinuses extending through the bone into the brain. The brain was swollen and under pressure due to large amount of pus from the infection.


This condition is called an acute subdural empyema. It means pus on the brain and could lead to seizures, stroke, coma and death if not properly treated. Early recognition and effective treatment with surgery and antibiotics save lives. Delay could lead to permanent injury, disability and death.


In view of the seriousness of the condition and the fact that she was already in coma, there was little option but to operate. The operation entailed removing the bone over the forehead and washing out the pus on the brain and in the sinuses. We also washed everything in antibiotics and then put it all back together again. Thereafter, she continued on serious antibiotics for 3 months to ensure that the germs were killed permanently.


How a little infection can kill you?

Infections like this can lead to what we call sepsis. Sepsis is an extremely serious condition, due to an overwhelming reaction of the body to infection. The infection causes the body to release chemicals as a defence mechanism. However, the chemicals themselves can cause widespread inflammation, which can then damage the body organs.


In the worst cases, the infection leads to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure, called septic shock. This can quickly lead to the failure of several organs including the lungs, liver and kidney, causing death.


Common symptoms and signs of sepsis

Some of the symptoms include:

  • High temperature
    • Low blood pressure
    • Confusion and sickness
    • Lightheaded and coma


Who can get it?
Anyone can get sepsis. A minor cut, scrape or a bug bite that was ignored can set off the deadly cascade. In the case of this teenager, a sinus infection that was treated as a simple catarrh resulted in pus collecting in her brain.


Why is it so dangerous?
• Every hour raises the risk of death by 8% if the sepsis is untreated
• At least 50% of septic shock patients do not survive
• Vital to get treated as soon as possible



Dr Biodun Ogungbo, Consultant Neurosurgeon in Abuja is a UK General Medical Council Registered Specialist in Neurosurgery and Nigerian Medical and Dental Council registered Surgeon. He has extensive surgical repertoire in elective and emergency surgery. He supports medical education and is active in health advocacy. He is interested in stroke and spine problems and has written extensively about these conditions.


Practical steps to a healthy lifestyle

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Your body is a complex, fine tuned machine and like any machine, even the smallest problem can cause it to malfunction. If you use the wrong engine oil or petrol in your car, it will breakdown. If you leave a car sitting in a driveway and never drive it, the battery will die, the parts will rust and it won’t drive.

Practicing a healthy lifestyle is the only way to keep your body functioning at its best. Like a car, you give it the right fuel by eating healthy nutritious foods. By exercising regularly you don’t allow “rust” to set in from inactivity. We all will age, but a body and mind that is well cared for now will carry you into your seventies and eighties still relatively fit and strong. A few years ago, I hurt my back and was taking yoga as part of my rehab regimen. My yoga instructor was 70 years old and one of the fittest and most flexible persons I have ever met.


To adopt a healthy lifestyle, you should:

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What you put in

Try to eat 3 portion-controlled meals a day that are a good combination of healthy high fiber carbohydrates, lots of fresh vegetables and lean protein. Never have more carbohydrates in a meal than what fits on the palm of one hand – fingers not included. That’s one slice of wheat bread, or 3 to 4 tablespoons of boiled rice only! If you’re unsure of what the right portion is, start by reducing the amount you usually eat by half. Cook with half the amount of oil you normally use and avoid fried foods. If you take 2 cubes of sugar in your tea or coffee, try one instead and cut back on salt too. You’ll get used to the taste over time.

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For breakfast I usually have a small bowl of oatmeal (Quaker oats), which is a high fiber complex carbohydrate, a small piece of smoked fish or one boiled egg. That combination gives me enough energy and keeps me sharp until lunch. Your largest meal should be at breakfast or lunch, not at dinner. A heavy dinner interferes with normal sleep cycle. Don’t ever eat to the point where you feel “stuffed”.


Use it or lose it

Do you know that well-conditioned athletes who exercise regularly lose half of their cardiovascular conditioning after 3 months of inactivity? A beginner exerciser who has exercised regularly for 2 months will lose all cardiovascular conditioning within 2 months of not working out! Imagine how poor your cardiovascular fitness is, if you are regularly inactive.


Activity involves not just exercising at set times but also how much you get up and move around on a daily basis. Try not to be sedentary for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. Imagine yourself burning off whatever carbohydrates and fats you’ve eaten through exercise and activity, leaving only good protein in your system to build and strengthen. At work, get up and walk around your floor every 30 – 45 minutes, take the stairs every chance you get and hand deliver files and papers to other departments yourself. If you have a 45minute lunch break, spend 30 minutes eating and 15 minutes walking.


Set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes everyday. I find that if you set a goal for daily exercise you’ll end up exercising at least 3 – 4 times a week. If you are currently inactive, start by walking at a moderate pace for 20 minutes and build up to 30 minutes after 2 weeks. Add strength training twice a week, using weights or your own body resistance. Be sure to stretch gently before and after exercise and drink lots of water.


So what are you waiting for? Just do it!

Why I chose a healthy lifestyle

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I find being a pediatrician very rewarding for many reasons. I have the privilege of caring for children of all ages. I get pleasure and amusement from helping first time parents navigate the basics of caring for a newborn, then gently scold those same parents when they allow the baby who is now 2 or 3 years old, to rule the household. During the elementary school years I enjoy a really nice relationship with the kids as we begin to have great conversations – children say the funniest things! The teen years are particularly interesting as I take on dual roles. Cheerleader and hand holder for the parents who are convinced either they or the child won’t survive the teen years without murder being committed. I’m a confidant and advocate for the teen who is convinced that his parents are the worst in the world and don’t understand him at all.


The most rewarding aspect of being a children’s doctor is that parents and their children see you as a role model. I dispense tons of advice to families about so many things including how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. I would be a complete fraud if I were telling them to do things I couldn’t do myself! My advice often has more weight because I use my experiences as examples. I’m in the health business after all and so being healthy has always been important to me.


Life is full of many unexpected twists and turns – I’m sure that we’ve all had our share. As a doctor though, avoidable personal health problems shouldn’t be on that list. I happen to have a family history of hypertension, stroke and cancer, so prevention is key for me. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including eating heart healthy foods and exercising daily is the most effective way to prevent chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.


My work is very demanding, and I have a variety of other interests and responsibilities that require that I be at the top of my game. My clinical skills and medical acumen have to be sharp because lives are at stake. I find that being physical fit improves my mental acuity and clarity of thought. It allows me to be physically and emotionally available to my patients, my family and friends.

A black woman holding an assortment of fruit
A black woman holding an assortment of fruit

My personal goal is to make every meal as healthy as possible and exercise everyday. With that lofty aspiration I’m able to exercise an average of 4 – 6 days per week. I eat healthy meals with the exception of when dining out at the occasional party where I have no control over the food that’s prepared. I actually enjoy “healthy” foods – whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and beans. Healthy foods, contrary to the thinking of many, can be quite delicious.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wake up every morning excited at the thought of exercising but I’m living proof that the benefits are huge and so I push myself. Cakes and cookies are my guilty pleasure but I make sure that I never have them in my house, so I’m not tempted to indulge. The best thing about that is that once in a while, when I go out to a restaurant or a party, I can splurge on dessert without feeling guilty.


In the next post I will make this practical and talk about how you can, live this way for the rest of your life.


The Well Doctor Visit – What you should be checking for

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A yearly well doctor visit is an investment that pays huge dividends for your general health. Most of us dislike going to the doctor because of the association with illness, the awful “hospital” smell, the long waiting times…the list goes on. Sometimes we’re even afraid that the doctor will find some dreadful disease or condition. We allow these reasons to keep us from doing something that could be life-saving.


The bottom line is that health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are overburdened, inefficient and staffed with health workers that are stretched beyond their capacity. When you’re sick, your chances of being misdiagnosed are high. So is the possibility of getting the wrong or ineffective treatment for your condition. Regular visits to a doctor when you’re still well, though not a hundred percent guarantee of good health for life, at least gives you the opportunity to catch a disease at an early stage and to receive guidance to prevent chronic illness.


At the well visit your weight and height will be used to calculate your Body Mass Index or BMI, as it is commonly known. Your BMI will show whether you’re slightly, moderately or severely overweight. A BMI that’s above normal has been linked to the development of chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers. During the visit, you should let the doctor know if you have any symptoms of any kind. Blood and urine screening tests will be done, as well as other tests that are recommended for your age.


The tables below will guide you as to what you should be asking the doctor to check. Please don’t assume that your stressed out doctor will be pleased that you’re telling him or her what to do but politely insist that you’re practicing preventive health care. It’s your life!


Do your part and go and get the tests done as soon as possible. They’ll be less expensive at a general hospital than through a private health facility, but wait times are likely to be longer. When you get your results, make an appointment with the doctor to discuss what they mean.

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Depending on your health and personal risk factors, your preventive care schedule may differ from the above recommendations. Based on the results of your screening tests or if you have particular risk factors like a chronic disease, obesity, or a family history of a disease, additional tests may be recommended. Your doctor will tell you what schedule is best for you.