Dr Lena Attebo Fighting Fit or Ticking Time Bomb Interview

Dr Lena Attebo Fighting Fit or Ticking Time Bomb Interview

A Health Assessment Shows You Might Be Both

In addition to regular exercise, a healthy diet, and moderate consumption of alcohol or other treats, a comprehensive medical examination may be required to keep you healthier for longer.

Described as -silent diseases', many serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease may silently progress without causing discernible symptoms until too late, even in people who are younger and healthy.

You may wonder how healthy you really are, even if living a healthy lifestyle. A health assessment can give you confidence in knowing the full picture of your health, including any unrecognised disease or risk factors.

Paul Jackson is a 53-year-old father of four, and a Project Director in the mining industry. Last year he decided to have a full health assessment, and was shocked to discover a life-threatening heart condition.

'I didn't expect them to find anything. I don't smoke and don't drink much, I train and play soccer regularly so thought I was pretty fit. The results shocked me. I had significant blockages in two major arteries and I would probably have had a big heart attack without treatment. That test saved my life," said Paul.

After reviewing Paul's results, his Life First doctor referred him on immediately to a cardiologist. Within a week of his assessment Paul had undergone successful intervention to stent his coronary arteries.

Doctor appointments are usually made to address symptoms and existing disease but health assessments are designed to proactively assess health status, identify risks and how to mitigate them.

'Common conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or kidney disease are silent disease processes, so how you feel is not necessarily a good indication of what is going on inside" said Dr Lena Attebo, Clinical Director of the health assessment program, Life First.

A health assessment includes physical examination, extensive pathology testing, an Exercise ECG (Electrocardiogram), physiological measurements such as weight, waist circumference, lung function, and consultation on psychological health, sleep and family history.

The details of health information may tell a different story to a person's self-reported healthy habits and could uncover minor symptoms that have been normalised by the patient.

Privately billed health assessments are often undertaken as part of corporate wellness schemes but the Life First program is aimed at proactive individuals wanting to know their health status.

'Health assessments serve three purposes: to maintain health and wellbeing, to identify risk factors for future disease, and to detect disease early so people can be treated before damage is caused," said Dr Lena Attebo.

The assessments are particularly suited to time poor people in high pressure jobs who may struggle to find time for routine doctor's appointments.

'We have pathology and radiology on site so results come back on the same day. The extended consultation time allows for discussion of these results, family history, as well as any symptoms or concerns of the patient.

This means patients can walk away feeling reassured, have their questions answered and some advice about lifestyle adjustments to improve and maintain their health," said Dr Lena Attebo.

Where doctors discover issues requiring further investigation or treatment, they refer patients back to their GP for ongoing treatment or to a specialist.

'We are not here to replace GPs. Our health assessments are designed to assess the full picture of a person's health. For ongoing management of identified health conditions we refer patients back to their GP."

'However, being located at the St Vincent's Clinic we have strong relationships with the specialists here so, should anything urgent and serious be identified, we can quickly refer our patients on for further investigation and treatment all on the same campus," said Dr Lena Attebo.

Interview with Dr Lena Attebo

Question: Why is heart disease known as a silent disease?

Dr Lena Attebo: Coronary artery disease typically has no symptoms in the early stages of disease progression when plaque is laid down in the coronary arteries. This is when the term silent disease is used. These early stages are where identification of risk, lifestyle modification and/or appropriate medical intervention may be most effective.

Question: How may heart disease affect otherwise young healthy people?

Dr Lena Attebo: The approach in younger people is to identify and reduce risk for future disease as most younger people don't worry about their heart health until they are older. However, the best time to start looking after cardiac health (and health overall) is early on to prevent future disease. Knowing your health status is important and this involves a number of factors, personal medical history, lifestyle, family history as well as medical tests are all important in assessing heart health.

Question: What symptoms are associated with heart disease?

Dr Lena Attebo:  Coronary artery disease may present with angina (chest pain, or pain referred to the arm, neck, or jaw), shortness of breath, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, collapse, or sudden death.

Question: What is Life First?

Dr Lena Attebo: Life First provides comprehensive health assessments to individuals using pathology testing, clinical measurements, extensive consultation with a doctor and exercise physiologist, electrocardiogram (ECG) and cardiac stress test, head to toe physical examination, psychological health assessment and lifestyle review. Assessments are conducted at clinics within St Vincent's Hospital Campus Sydney, Sydney City, St Vincent's Campus Melbourne, and in Brisbane.

Question: What is a comprehensive health assessment?

Dr Lena Attebo: A comprehensive health assessment gives an accurate picture of your health. The assessment can identify risk factors that if not addressed may lead to chronic disease. Our doctors are very experienced and spend a lot of time with their patients, usually about an hour to make sure all issues are addressed. The information gathered is very comprehensive, ranging from in-depth medical and family history through to quality of sleep and psychological questionnaires. We provide same day pathology testing so the results from blood tests can be discussed with the doctor on the same day. Combined with a skin check, physical examination and clinical measurements, this is a thorough head to toe assessment of a person's health.

Question: What does a Life First comprehensive health assessment show?

Dr Lena Attebo: Patients receive a full report following their assessment, and with their consent it is then also sent to their GP. This report contains the results of pathology tests, ECG and stress test results, anthropometric measurements (e.g. waist circumference and BMI) as well as results of any other additional tests. A personalised summary is written by the examining doctor and exercise physiologist. This summarises any identified risks, diseases, and specific recommendations. Some of these will need to be discussed with their GP for ongoing management. Some programs include ongoing follow up with a qualified health coach to provide assistance in modifying lifestyle risk factors.

Question: What is the cost and time for a Life First comprehensive health assessment?

Dr Lena Attebo: Life First offers a range of services depending on the patient's needs. Assessments start at $850 and typically require a minimum appointment of 90 minutes, although this can be longer depending on the assessment and any further requirements.

Question: How can Australians get a Life First comprehensive health assessment?

Dr Lena Attebo: Call 1300 030 707 or visit www.lifefirstassessment.com.au for more information.

Interview by Brooke Hunter