Why couples should get health screening before tying the knot

The festive season appears to have a disproportionate number of couples getting married. Many would have gone through pre-marital counselling. Others would have even penned pre-nuptial legal agreements tied to material possessions pre-dating their engagement. Many, however, may forget to subject themselves to pre-marital health screening. This should be considered of equal importance to all other pre-marital rituals and should never be missed.

But why pre-marital health screening? Many people, especially at the height of romance, may be ignorant of their prevailing state of health. Pre-marital health screening should have some bare minimum health checks, but may also be stretched to a detailed and more comprehensive one. At a minimum, the intending couples should be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Apparent hereditary conditions and potential fertility related issues may also be included.

You could choose to get your tests done together, or separately. You must agree ahead of time to share your results with each other. Screening for STIs should include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. Hepatitis B and C should also be tested for. If either party is found infected, treatment options and other precautions are available to negate transmission to the uninfected partner. When ready to conceive, several precautions can be put in place to reduce risks of disease transmission to the unborn baby as well.

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Having an idea about fertility potential is beneficial. All your gynaecologist needs is to ask both of you some queries. Specific fertility tests may be hard to justify initially, unless a problem is obviously apparent.

Pre-marital screening for hereditary conditions shouldn’t be routine. Any pointers to potential genetic conditions in either of you could prompt specific testing. An example in South Africa is Sickle Cell Disease, a genetically inherited condition affecting blood cells. If the intending couple both carry the Sickle Cell gene, they would have a significant chance of bearing a child with the disease, and potential lifelong ill health. If such information is known beforehand, certain medical interventions may be applicable prior to pregnancy, in attempts to minimise having an affected child.

Don’t forget testing for general health as well. You want to know if your partner has any chronic conditions well ahead of time. But be wary of taking it too far, not every potential condition can be screened for, or predicted. You must draw a line on the barest minimum and practical screening tests, then go ahead and tie the knot. And be vigilant after getting the all clear, it’s easy to fall prey to avoidable ailments soon after the honeymoon is over!