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CBC's Dr. Peter Lin on how to make your own house calls

05/20/2015 12:30 EDT | Updated 05/20/2016 05:59 EDT
Remember these words: ball, cat, tree.

If, in three or four minutes, you can repeat those words, then your short-term memory is in fairly good shape.

This simple test is just one of a handful that doctors use to monitor patients' health. In fact, a recent study by researchers at McMaster University suggests that doctors can tell your likelihood of suffering a heart attack or stroke by simply measuring your grip strength.

CBC's medical columnist Dr. Peter Lin says doctors often perform simple tests on patients to predict who's going to get into trouble, but they just don't tell them about it.

"All day long we're ordering blood tests, we're ordering fancy scans and stuff like that," he told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"There was a time when we practiced medicine without any of these things."

To track your own health at home, here are some other simple tests Lin says you can do.

Get up and go test

This test measures balance and helps determine who may be at risk of falling at home.

Simply sit in a chair, stand up and walk 10 feet. Turn around and sit back in the chair. If you can do the test in 10 seconds, you're fine. If it takes you more than 30 seconds, then you're at high risk of falling.

"It's very simple, but all of a sudden you see the wobbly people, you see the people with the muscles, they don't have good muscle strength, so when they sit down, they do a kerplunk into the chair," said Lin.

"Now imagine if they're trying to do that on the toilet and then they kerplunk and they miss the toilet, and then they fall. You can break a hip."

Clock draw test

Drawing a clock by hand helps test cognitive function and can determine whether someone may have Alzheimer's disease.

Draw a round clock, put the right numbers in place, and have the hands indicate a specific time. If you can do this, then your memory is likely in tact. But if the clock looks odd, it means doctors shouldn't simply write you off as having memory loss.  

"All of a sudden, the appointments come quicker because when [specialists] see a really abnormal clock, they realize there's real disease there," Lin said.

Pee and poo tests

If your urine is cloudy and burning: it's likely an infection.

If your urine is cloudy with crystals: this may mean you have kidney stones.

If your urine is foamy like beer: you're leaking protein, which could indicate a serious kidney problem.

If your stool is pencil-thin: this indicates some sort of bowel obstruction, and the condition could be as serious as cancer.

To hear what other signs people can look for in their bodies, listen to the audio labelled: How to make your own house calls

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