It’s a New Year, and many of my patients are coming in for their annual check-ups. Maybe you’re scheduled to visit your doctor for your annual physical as well. I always like to remind my patients of the old Ben Franklin adage – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Nothing could be truer where your health is concerned. Prevention, however, comes in many forms, from making sure you get the optimal nutrition, rest, and exercise to being proactive and getting the right medical tests to screen for any possible issues. If you’re over the age of 50, the following medical tests are smart-thinking health screening:
Important Blood Tests: Routine blood work is almost always done with a physical exam. This is the CBC, or complete blood count, that measures hemoglobin/hematocrit, red blood cell indices which can screen for anemia, and white blood cells which can warn of an infection. The differential in the CBC measures different components in your blood to see where abnormalities may lie.
A BUN (blood, urea, nitrogen) measures how well your kidneys are working. Electrolytes, monitors sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride levels and show if you’re dehydrated, deficient in these crucial minerals, or perhaps, retaining water as can happen in heart or kidney disease.
A hemoglobin A1c test measures glucose levels in your blood. Too high (over 6.0) can mean a possible diabetes or pre-diabetic condition. Thyroid testing can screen for a too low thyroid which can cause depression, weight gain, fatigue, cold intolerance, and slow heart beat. Too high thyroid can cause palpitations, anxiety, intolerance to heat, arrhythmias and be a risk factor for heart disease. C-reactive protein and/or homocysteine levels are markers for inflammation and possible heart disease. Cholesterol screening can show if you are at high risk for heart disease depending on HDL and LDL levels.
Immunizations: A tetanus toxoid needs to be updated every 7 years. This is important especially if you work around your house or at your job where you might come in contact with rusty nails, metal, dirty conditions etc. Also, if you are at risk for getting the flu and/or pneumonia, you may want to get a Pneumovax vaccine for pneumonia and an influenza vaccine.
Colon Screening: This can include Hemoccult stool cards (especially if you see blood during toileting) and/or a colonoscopy to screen for polyps or possible other colon abnormalities. If you have a family history of colon cancer and/or have been experiencing changes in bowel habits, pain, etc, it is important to have a colonoscopy.
Skin Cancer Screen: Especially if you spend a good deal of time in the sun and/or see age spots or other darkened areas of skin, or changes in moles on your body.