General health concerns

Preventative health is key to improving long term health. In this section, you can learn about four common health concerns that are seen in the New Zealand population, including symptoms and risk factors and how to manage these.

Self-care for colds and ‘flu

While there’s no treatment for the common cold or ‘flu, taking care of yourself will speed your recovery. Most cases resolve without medical intervention within 7 to 10 days – see below for guidance on when to seek medical attention.

Care tips:

  • Rest as much as possible.
  • For a sore throat suck lozenges or a teaspoon of honey or try a saltwater gargle by add ½ teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – water, ginger tea and chicken broth are good options. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Utilise over the counter cold and cough medications, such as pain relief and decongestants, as required.
  • Ease your breathing at night by using an extra pillow and taking a hot shower before going to bed.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that strengthen your immune system.
  • Vitamin C and zinc supplements may be of benefit in reducing the length of a cold.

Note: Antibiotics do not treat cold or flu viruses. They are used to treat illness caused by bacteria.


Make an appointment with a doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • a fever over 39˚C or higher that lasts more than two days;
  • a cough that is painful or lingers more than two weeks;
  • an earache that gets more painful;
  • a sore throat that gets more painful or has white or yellow spots;
  • shaking chills;
  • skin rash;
  • chest pain, wheezing or trouble breathing; 
  • if your lips, skin or nails look blue; and/or
  • you’re feeling confused.


One in three people may be prediabetic, and over 80% of people don’t even know it. Prediabetes is also known as impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). This occurs when the glucose (sugar) in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Your body produces insulin, a hormone needed to transport glucose from your blood stream to your muscle, liver and fat cells, where it is used for energy. Prediabetes means the insulin is not working properly. Excess body fat contributes to this problem by causing resistance to insulin.

If left unchecked then prediabetes often develops into Type 2 diabetes, and will lead to more serious health complications. But 80% of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by keeping to a healthy body weight, eating healthy foods and keeping physically active.

Find the 100,000 - finding diabetics in NZ, NZ Diabetes Foundation

What are the risk factors for prediabetes?

  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Having a family history of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Adults of Maori, Pacific or Indo-Asian ethnicity.
  • Women with a history of gestational diabetes or a large baby (birth weight 4.5 kg or more).
  • Adults on long-term steroid or antipsychotic treatment.
  • Adults with ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease or peripheral vascular disease.

This quiz will also allow you to see if you are at risk of type 2 diabetes.

Know the signs and symptoms

Not everyone with prediabetes has symptoms. Early signs of prediabetes can include:

  • extreme thirst
  • needing to urinate (pee) often
  • dry skin
  • feeling hungry or increased appetite
  • blurred vision
  • feeling drowsy
  • wounds being slow to heal

Simple lifestyle modifications like changing the amount and type of food that you eat and increasing your physical activity may prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Useful resources

Diabetes NZ - provides comprehensive information and resources to help identify and manage diabetes symptoms.
Health Navigator NZ - Refer here for more information about Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, Gestational diabetes and any other blood sugar regulation
Video series - The disease that is killing my family.

Blood pressure

As you age, your blood pressure can rise if you don’t manage your lifestyle effectively. So how do you know you have high blood pressure and what can you do?

Why is blood pressure so important?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. If your blood pressure is high, your heart works harder with every heartbeat. Constant high blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This puts you at higher risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health issues.

Blood Pressure Animation | Heart disease risk factors

Who needs to get their blood pressure checked?

Every adult should have a blood pressure check regularly. The age you are advised to start having heart checks depends on your age, ethnicity and other risk factors. Speak with a nurse or GP at your Defence Health Centre (DHC) to confirm how regularly you should get it checked.

 Risk factors

If you have no known risk factors Men:       45 years
Women:  55 years
If you are Māori, Pasifika or South Asian Men:       30 years
Women:  40 years
If you have the following risk factors:
you smoke
family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke
you have diabetes (Type 1, 2 or gestational)
you are overweight
you have kidney disease
you have high blood pressure, heart disease.
Men:       35 years
Women:  45 years

Where do I get it checked?

Contact your nearest DHC and ask to have your blood pressure checked. If you are very concerned you can simply call in and a nurse will see you immediately. Use the guide above as an indication.

Useful resources

Heart Foundation NZ - comprehensive source of information on heart health.
Health Navigator NZ - great information and resources on heart health.
My Heart Check - my Heart Check estimates your heart age and shares tips to help improve your heart health.

Healthy skin

Did you know your skin is the largest organ in your body? Your skin provides a protective barrier and it can tell you a lot about your overall health. Your skin grows and changes with you throughout your life. It is very important that you familiarise yourself with your body so you can detect any skin conditions or moles that have changed or are causing pain; they could be a sign of something more serious.


Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It is the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders. It is however, largely preventable. If you protect your skin from the sun throughout your life, you will greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer

Steps to being SunSmart: 

  • Slip into shade where possible.
  • Slip  on some sun protective clothing, for example, a shirt with a collar and long sleeves, and trousers or long-legged shorts.
  • Slop  on broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply 20 minutes before you go outside, and re-apply every two hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating. 
  • Slap  on a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
  • Wrap  on some close-fitting sunglasses.

UVI technology. Using websites and apps to detect the Ultraviolet Index (UVI) reading will show you how long you can be exposed to sunlight at any time of day without visible signs of skin damage. By entering your skin type it can provide tailored behavioural advice. For New Zealand refer to the NIWA website for the latest advice and recommendations.


How to do a skin check

Skin checks

Checking your skin regularly (including skin not normally exposed to the sun) will help you get to know how your skin normally looks so you can be aware of any changes. This is especially important as you get older, particularly if you are over the age of 50. Make sure you check your entire body, as skin cancers can sometimes occur on parts of your body that are not exposed to the sun. You should see your GP or a dermatologist for skin checks, particularly if you notice changes in existing moles or freckles, or the appearance of a new mole or freckles.

Wound healing

Wound healing is a complex and dynamic process of replacing and regenerating new cells to heal. There are 3 stages of wound healing. Healing can slow down or stop at any stage if something gets in the way of your body's healing process. Factors that can slow down or stop wound healing include poor blood supply, infection, further damage to the wound, poor diet, smoking and wound dryness. 

See your doctor or GP immediately if you have any signs of infection, such as fever and chills, a wound that drains pus, smell from your wound and increased redness, temperature or swelling around your wound.

Wound care advice

Your GP or nurse will talk to you about how best to care for your wound. But here are some helpful suggestions to ensure optimum healing.

  • Hygiene. Always wash your hands before and after cleaning your wound. 
  • Medications. Speak with your GP or nurse and tell them any medications you are on. Some medications may affect wound healing, eg, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Only take medications prescribed by your doctor for pain.
  • Dressing. Keep your wounds clean and dressed to avoid infection and keep it moist. The wound needs moisture to heal faster. Don't use an antiseptic cream for too long as it can harm the new skin cells.
  • Nutrition. Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as they have lots of vitamin C, which helps to make collagen. Protein and zinc are important too. Read more about good food for wound healing.
  • Health. If you have diabetes, you need to control your blood sugar, as high blood sugar can reduce blood flow to the wound. Don't smoke or get support to stop smoking if you are a smoker. Smoking can reduce blood flow to your skin especially the wound. If you need help to quit smoking, ask your doctor or read more about how and why to quit smoking. 
  • Exercise. This can help increase blood flow and speed up wound healing, but ensure it's appropriate and doesn't put pressure on your wound.  Speak with the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) or Exercise Rehabilitation Instructor (ERI) for further advice on appropriate training.

Useful resources

Health Navigator - Provides comprehensive information on skin health.
Derm Net - Wound healing advice.

How can the NZDF help me?

Defence Health Centres (DHC): Make an appointment to see a nurse or doctor at your local DHC. Discuss your concerns and any symptoms you are suffering.

Gymnasium: Consult your local PTI and ask for advice on an appropriate exercise program. Mention your concerns and any exercise advice or limitations your GP advised.

Social Support: Sometimes the pressures of work and family, and stress of everyday life can impact on our health. If this has become too much we recommend that you reach out and talk to someone, such as a chaplain, marae staff, social worker or NZDF4U wellbeing support. This will go a long way to help you heal yourself.