Key Health Tests

Experts disagree about the frequency of regular check-ups, believing that it should be based on a person’s age, personal and family health history and risk factors. But they do agree that there are some key health tests that adults should have. These tests along with regular check-ups can aid in preventing diseases before they get a foothold in our bodies. They can also catch health problems when they are in the early stages. Discuss having the following health tests with your physician and your insurance company.

EYE EXAM

Eye exams detect visual defects, eye muscle disorders and signs of disease such as glaucoma. The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends that eye exams should be done every two years from teens on up if you’re in a low risk category. Low risk means you have vision problems but do not have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of glaucoma. The AMA considers you high risk if you do have any of the previous conditions and recommends a yearly eye exam. If your vision is good, regular eye exams should start at age 40.

DENTAL EXAM

Regular dental check-ups focus on the health of teeth, gums, tongue and mouth and signs of oral cancer. The AMA suggests a visit to your dentist every six months until the age of 21 then yearly visits. Smokers should go as often as their dentist recommends.

BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure affects almost one in five Americans. It is a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and vision problems. Most authorities confer that adults’ blood pressure should be less than 140/90 mm Hg. and that it should be checked upon every visit to their physician. A yearly blood pressure reading is good to establish a baseline. The US Task Force recommends everyone ages 3 and older have regular blood pressure checks according to their physician. The Task Force also recommends that blood pressure should be monitored according to you physician’s recommendation after review of personal and family history and risk factors.

CHOLESTEROL

Cholesterol plays a key role in the clogging of coronary arteries that supply the oxygen to the heart muscle. Cholesterol is checked by testing your blood. The Task Force recommends cholesterol checks every five years if your reading is normal, yearly if you reading is high. The National Cholesterol Education Program suggests getting a blood test that provides a breakdown of the ratio between the two major types of cholesterol. The HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol and the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the bad cholesterol.

BLOOD WORK

A test of your blood can determine many things according to Maria Eure, a writer for Senior Health. Blood counts are done to rule out any internal bleeding. Glucose is checked to detect diabetes, blood electrolytes are checked to detect kidney problems and early heart problems. Finally, blood work can also test for proper thyroid functions.

FECAL OCCULT BLOOD TEST

This test checks for blood in stool, sometimes an indication of premalignant or cancerous growths in the colon. The American College of Physicians and the American Cancer Society recommend yearly tests for everyone over 50 years of age.

SKIN CANCER CHECK

Your physician scans your skin for any signs of melanoma. This scan should be done according to personal/family history and physician’s recommendation.

SPECIFIC TESTS FOR WOMEN

An annual Pap smear, which can detect cervical cancer and a pelvic exam is recommended for every woman once she becomes sexually active. The physician typically does a clinical breast exam during this visit as well. The American Cancer Society suggests that women ages 40 – 49 begin yearly or bi-yearly (according to physician’s recommendation) mammograms. ACS recommends that women over 50 go for a mammogram each year.

SPECIFIC TESTS FOR MEN

The ACS endorses yearly digital prostate exams for men beginning at age 40. The society then recommends an annual PSA test, a prostate specific antigen blood test that can indicate cancer, beginning at age 50.

TESTS FOR THOSE OVER 50

If you’re over 50 years of age you may want to consider these checks/tests as well. Have your physician take your weight and height annually. Height loss can signal osteoporosis. Weight loss, without trying, can signify signs of disease. Eure writes that a baseline EKG should be done at age 50 to monitor the heart and heart rate. You may also consider a chest x-ray which can detect lung cancer, tuberculosis and emphysema.

Experts agree that the bottom line on health tests and regular check-ups should be determined by you and your physician. Family history and risk factors are important determinations in your health care. Regular visits to your physician help you to establish a long-term relationship and good rapport. Always review your medications with your doctor, get your feet examined if you’re a diabetic and don’t be afraid to discuss your emotional health.

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