Why the apprehension? I live a relatively healthy life style, I feel well. I didn't want to shatter the illusion that I'm going to live a long and active life by discovering that my body is in fact a ticking time bomb of disease. My sensible self realised that knowing about potential problems would give me the opportunity to take positive steps towards minimising the impact to my life expectancy and that these potential problems would still be there whether or not I was screened. My irrational self wanted to bury my head in the sand! Irrational self lost the argument and I booked an appointment.
Life Line Screening brings its service into the community. My screening was to take place in a prominent venue local to me with easy parking. A week before my appointment, I was sent a reminder email with information about what to expect and how to prepare. I was slightly alarmed by the instruction to fast for four hours (which included NO tea or coffee!)
My appointment was for 9.30am so the four hour fast only meant missing breakfast - but not having my morning cup of tea in bed was difficult!
I arrived in plenty of time and was greeted by a very friendly, helpful receptionist who gave me forms to fill in detailing my medical history and even leant me a pair of reading glasses when I groaned about the size of the font (Note to Self: Book appointment with the optician!).
I handed back my forms, feeling quietly smug that I had been able to check all the 'NO' circles next to the list of scary sounding disorders one may be suffering with.
Even at 9.30 in the morning there were already people being tested and a steady trickle of customers continued to arrive throughout the duration of my stay. The idea of The Power of Prevention is obviously catching on.
Before long I was called for my Carotid Artery Stroke Screening. The carotid arteries in your neck carry blood from the heart to the brain. Blockages in these arteries that prevent blood flow to the brain are a major cause of strokes. Using ultra sound techniques, blockages and blood flow can be assessed which would alert you to the likelihood of suffering a stroke. If further action was necessary, the results would be passed onto your GP.
Having had six pregnancies, I am no stranger to ultra sound examinations but the cold gel and sensor on my neck was an altogether different experience. It wasn't painful - just a weird, uncomfortable feeling. Maybe it is because I am a Taurean - the zodiac sign ruled by the neck. Whatever the reason, I didn't like it. I did like that no anomalies were detected. The results were to be sent off for the consultant to do a thorough diagnosis but it was reassuring that there was nothing glaringly obvious that I should have been worried about.
This examination, as well as those for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, Peripheral Arterial Disease and Atrial Fibrillation (the accounts of which will follow), were carried out with me lying on an examination table. The practitioners made a point of disinfecting the tables prior to asking me to lie down each time.
My next screening was for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. This involved exposing my abdominal area to give access for the ultra sound sensor, breathing in, holding it, breathing out. You trust that the 'trained medical professionals' carrying out the test know what they are looking for. All of the testers carried out the examinations with efficiency and explained exactly what they were doing. I was given a rather blunt description of an aneurysm - your artery swells up with blood like a balloon, it bursts, you die. I was (not surprisingly) relieved that no thinning or abnormality of my abdominal aorta was detected! Again, the results would need to be checked by a consultant before the final report was delivered to me.
Privacy screens were used to divide off the different testing areas but they did not create a completely private environment which was a little disconcerting at times.
The screening that I was most worried about and therefore the most important in terms of managing my future health issues was for Osteoporosis. Despite having grown up at a time before Margaret Thatcher earned her "Milk Snatcher" name, I never drank my free school milk nor did I drink milk at home. Any calcium deficiency in my diet during my growing years, coupled with the extra need for the mineral during pregnancy (six times over!) must have left some lasting impression. Quite how this might manifest I don't know but knowledge of my bone density now could prove extremely important.
The test involved putting my bare right foot into a device that looked like it could simply be measuring your shoe size or giving you a foot massage. Your foot is held still with an inflatable dome either side of the ankle. Alcohol was sprayed onto the area being scanned to assist transmission of the ultrasound that measures the bone density in the weight bearing heel bone. Apart from the coldness of the alcohol spray, there was no discomfort or intrusion whatsoever with this test. I now wait for the results to see if I should have cause for concern.
The final two tests, Atrial Fibrillation and Peripheral Arterial Disease were both conducted by the Team leader who reminded me in looks and chirpiness of actor David Tennant.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregularity in the heartbeat which is another cause of stroke. ECG electrodes were placed on my ankles and wrists to detect for this. I had a momentary flash of concern that my heartbeat would betray a slight excitement born from the fact that I find David Tennant a very attractive man!
The Peripheral Arterial Disease screening involved having pressure cuffs put on my wrists and ankles (the temptation to make inappropriate flirty comments about bondage games was strong but I resisted) to measure the ratio between the systolic blood pressures in the extremities. This is a good indicator of blood flow to the legs and hence arterial health. Both tests were completely painless. The David Tennant lookalike complimented me on my blood pressure and I was done.
The whole process was completed in just over an hour but at busier times, I imagine that allowing up to two hours as I was initially advised, would be more realistic. I was very relieved to finally get my first cup of coffee of the day.
My Life Line Screening was complementary but for the four tests reviewing stroke, aneurysm and cardiovascular risks and the scan for osteoporosis risk, I would have been charged £149. There are prices available for individual tests and discounted packages to suit different needs.
I grew up hearing the old adage Prevention is Better than Cure and still firmly believe it. These screenings are not currently available on the NHS until symptoms appear, at which point it might be too late.
There are, of course, a multitude of other life threatening conditions that are not screened for and it certainly isn't going to stop you getting hit by a bus on your way home (death by cliche). However, in terms of offering choice and enabling people to take that preventative stance towards managing their health, the Life Line Screening delivers on its promises.
I have been impressed with the service so far and will write a final post when I receive the full report of my results in 21 days.
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