The Power of Prevention: 8 Medical Tests & Screenings That Everyone Needs
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” - Benjamin Franklin
Let’s face it…no one likes going to doctor. Especially when your to-do list is packed, it’s easy to forget about your annual checkup. If you are like most people, you probably only visit the doctor when you’re sick. Healthcare providers are encouraging people to prevent costly health issues from happening in the first place.
We have researched the 8 essential medical tests that are a priority to ask your doctor about on your next visit. And with many health insurance providers covering many of these tests with no out of pocket costs for you, there truly is no excuse not to check up on your health.
1. Blood Pressure Screening
This is one of the most important screenings. Symptoms of high blood pressure tend to go unnoticed. Blood pressure is one of the most common risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. A main reason for making frequent monitoring crucial for cardiovascular health.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, happens when blood has a difficult time flowing through your body caused by hardened arteries. It’s important to compare your blood pressure measurements to a standardized blood pressure chart like the one below.
How Often to Check It: The American Heart Association recommends checking it at least once every two years, if not annually.
2. Lipid Profile (Cholesterol)
In addition to monitoring your blood pressure, another effective way to track your cardiovascular health is through cholesterol levels. A comprehensive lipoprotein profile will measure the total cholesterol in your blood, including HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Most insurance providers cover cholesterol screenings, making it an affordable way to keep your heart healthy and strong. If you are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may recommend changes in your diet, exercise, or medicine.
How Often to Check It: Schedule this test beginning at age 20. If your results are normal, get checked at least every five years until you reach age 45. If you are 45 or older, have a family history of heart disease, or have a total cholesterol level of over 200, get an annual screening. You may need to be tested more frequently if your healthcare provider determines that you’re at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 104,950 colon and 40,340 rectal cancer cases are expected to occur in 2005, making colorectal cancer the third most common cancer in both men and women. During this test, a thin flexible tube with a scope attached to it is guided through the colon to help detect colorectal cancer.
While there are other preventive methods for colon cancer, colonoscopy is considered the gold standard. This test does not just diagnose adenomas (potentially precancerous polyps), but the doctor can actually remove them during the time of the procedure.
How Often to Check It: The recommended age for your first colonoscopy is at the age of 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, your first test should happen at the age of 40 and every 5 years after. If you don’t, a regular colonoscopy can be scheduled every 10 years after your first procedure.
4. Diabetes Risk Tests
Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems:
- Cardiovascular Issues: Includes coronary artery disease with chest pain, heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries.
- Nerve Damage: Excess sugar can injure the tiny blood vessels that nourish your nerves, resulting in numbness of the toes or fingers and spreads upward. This can lead to cuts, blisters, and even the amputation of certain limbs.
- Skin Conditions: Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
- Kidney Damage: The kidneys help filter waste from your body but this process can be severely interrupted by diabetes, leading to kidney failure or irreversible kidney disease.
Routine screening can detect early stages of type II diabetes by administering a simple and inexpensive glucose test. The results will indicate if you have a normal metabolism, prediabetes or diabetes.
How Often to Check It: The American Diabetes Association recommends regular screening for diabetes risk at age 45. If you first test results are normal than you only need an annual test.
5. Dental Screening
We have been taught the importance of brushing our teeth and flossing at a young age. A regular oral exam includes a cleaning, examination, and possibly X-rays to optimize your oral health.
After your cleaning, the dentist will take a close look at your teeth, tongue, and tissues surrounding your jaw and neck. This helps spot early signs of decay, gum disease, and oral cancer.
How Often to Check It: Schedule a cleaning and checkup twice a year.
6. Pap Smear
This is the tried-and-true way to detect and treat cervical cancer effectively. With a simple swab from your cervix, these results are sent to a lab for any abnormalities. If your pap test shows any abnormal cervical cells, your doctor may do further tests to check for more serious issues.
The good news, according to the American Cancer Society, death rate from this disease has declined by more than 74 percent over the past 50 years, thanks to the Pap smear, which was first introduced by the late George Papanicolaou, M.D.
How Often to Check It: These tests should start at the age of 21. If you’re results test negatively for human-papillomavirus (HPV), you should get tested ever other year. If you have had multiple sexual partners or have a sexually transmitted disease, schedule a Pap annually.
7. Thyroid Test
The thyroid is a small gland in your neck that regulates how your body uses energy. If you thyroid is overactive, your metabolism is too active leading to insomnia, weight loss, and anxiety. As opposed to an overactive thyroid, an underactive thyroid can make you sluggish causing fatigue, constipation, and weight gain.
The best way to initially test thyroid function is the TSH test. This simple blood test measures thyroid hormone in your body. Many experts believe that the desired level is anywhere between 0.4 and 5.5. If you are anywhere outside these results, your doctor may require additional tests.
How Often to Check It: Once a year, says the American Thyroid Association. After the age of 60, thyroid testing is usually conducted annually.
8. Full Physical Exam
If you are really pressed for time, you can include many of these tests in a full physical exam. This is the typical breakdown:
- Lifestyle: Take this time to mention any concerns you currently have about your health. Your doctor will then ask your current lifestyle including smoking, excessive alcohol use, diet, exercise, and sexual activity.
- Check Vital Signs: Your doctor will check the most common vital signs including blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiration rate.
- General Exams: Once your doctor checks for vital signs, he or she will use a variety of techniques to examine your heart, lungs, head and neck, skin, and abdominal for abnormalities.
- Laboratory Tests: Doctors may order routine blood and urine tests to check for a range of health issues such as cholesterol or diabetes.
- Additional Physical Tests for Men: Includes testicular, hernia, penis, and prostate exam.
- Additional Physical Tests for Women: Include breast and pelvic exam.
How Often to Check It: Annually
The Power of Prevention
Even if you are exercising daily and consuming a healthy diet, you still may be at risk for health risks. The only way to be fully confident in your state of health is through these essential medical tests and exams. Take control of your health today!