Getting regular checkups and preventive screening tests are among some of the most important things you can do for yourself. "Health screenings are tools for preventing disease and determining if people are at risk for developing a medical condition that could eventually affect their health or lifestyle," explained Family Practice physician Libre Johnson, M.D. "Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other diseases may be treated or prevented if they are found early. Health screenings refer to a test or exam that is performed to find a medical condition in its early stages, when it is easier to treat. The types of screenings a person needs depends on his or her age, sex, family history and whether there are risk factors for certain diseases." According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the screening tests that follow are recommended as tools for the early detection of disease, since they can lead to prevention and treatment that saves lives.
Health Screening Tests
- Obesity: "Screening for body mass index or BMI, is a simple way to calculate if your weight is posing a health risk," Dr. Johnson suggested. "People who have a BMI over 25 are likely to be overweight and may obtain health benefits through losing weight. For example, those with a BMI greater than 25 have an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses."
- High Cholesterol: People are advised to get their cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 45 if they are in a high risk group; however men need to do this starting at age 35. A woman younger than 45, who smokes, has diabetes, high blood pressure or a history of heart disease in her family should talk to her doctor about starting this testing earlier.
- High Blood Pressure: The USPSTF recommends blood pressure screening every two years for people with a blood pressure level below 120/80; and yearly for people over 120/80 and under 140/90. "If you get your blood pressure checked outside of your physician's office, such as when you are shopping and your level is 140/90 or above, please make an appointment with your doctor. You may also want to start working on lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure to a healthier level," Dr. Johnson cautioned.
- Colon Cancer: "After age 50, men and women should begin colon cancer screening," Dr. Johnson recommended. "Talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you and how often the testing should be done. However, if you have a history of colon cancer in your family, be sure to discuss this with your physician to determine if you need screening before age 50."
- Diabetes: "People with high cholesterol or high blood pressure should be regularly tested for diabetes," Dr. Johnson advised. "If diabetes is caught early, it may be managed with simple dietary changes which are often the same as those that prevent or reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol."
- Skin Cancer: The easiest way to screen for skin cancer is to regularly examine your skin. "If you see a change in a mole's size, shape or color; or if it starts to itch, hurt or bleed, make an appointment with your physician," Dr. Johnson stated. "Don't forget to check moles in hard-to-see places with the help of a mirror or a family member."
- Depression: One of the most frequent signs of depression is feeling down or having little interest or pleasure in doing things for two weeks of more. If this description fits you, talk to your doctor about a more advanced screening test for depression.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV: If you are sexually active, consider being routinely screened for STDs and HIV, especially if you have had unprotected sexual encounters. These confidential screenings generally involve simple blood tests.
Other Screenings for Women
- Breast Cancer: Starting at age 50, the USPSTF recommends having a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, talk to your doctor about starting mammograms earlier. Women are also encouraged to do periodic breast self-exams to check for lumps or other changes in their breasts.
- Cervical Cancer: Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if they have ever been sexually active.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that can occur with aging. "Starting at age 65, it is recommended that women should have a bone density test to check for osteoporosis," Dr. Johnson said. "Those between ages 60 and 64 should talk to their doctor about having a bone density test if they weigh less than 154 pounds or have other risk factors."
Other Screenings for Men
- Prostate Cancer: Some experts believe that all men should be screened for prostate cancer, while others believe that only those at high risk should be screened. Talk to your physician to help you determine the need for prostate cancer screening.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Men between the ages of 65-75, who have smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, should be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
"It's important to know if you're at risk for a medical condition, even if you exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and feel very healthy," Dr. Johnson concluded. "Health screening tests are designed to help people identify illnesses early, when action can be taken to prevent or minimize disease. Talk with your physician about which screenings are right for you and how often they are needed."
Libre Johnson, M.D., is a board certified Family Practice physician affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff and the Columbiana Family Care Center. His office is located at 750 East Park Avenue in Columbiana, 330-482-3871