Maintaining your health is easier to do if you stay on top of things. After all, it’s easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. It’s also easier to prevent an illness by detecting the warning signs, than it is to cure one. Thus, the importance of getting annual check-ups increases with every passing year. Here are several tests experts advise people over 50 to discuss with their doctor about to maximize the benefits of these yearly visits.
Regular blood testing is one of the most effective ways to keep track of physical well-being, because it allows doctors to see the way your body functions change over time. Blood tests are used to search for markers of diseases and health conditions such as diabetes, anemia, cancer, and coronary heart disease, as well as countless others. The most common (and important) blood tests to consider are:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) — Measures the levels of 10 different components of every major cell in your blood. Abnormal results could indicate nutritional deficiencies, anemia, clotting problems, cancer, infection, or immune system disorders.
- Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP) — Measures eight common compounds in the blood, and could potentially detect kidney disease, diabetes, or hormone imbalances.
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) — This test includes measuring the eight compounds in the BMP, as well as various proteins and liver enzymes, which really ups the diagnostic power.
- Lipid Panel — Measures cholesterol levels, which is a Big Deal™ in the medical community. (HDL, or “good” cholesterol helps remove harmful substances from your blood and helps your liver break them down, while LDL, so-called “bad” cholesterol, can cause plaque to build up in your arteries.)
- Thyroid Panel — Your thyroid produces hormones that control many of the body’s basic metabolic processes. An under-active thyroid can cause weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, forgetfulness and cold intolerance. An overactive thyroid can lead to anxiety, sleep issues, weight loss, weakness, and eye problems. Many thyroid issues are easily corrected with medication, so it really pays to get this test done.
- Blood Sugar or A1C test — Used to detect diabetes, doctors recommend this test be done annually after the age of 45.
- Vitamin D — As you get older, it is harder for your body to synthesize vitamin D, which is essential to protecting your bones and defends against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Measuring these levels can detect deficiencies so they can be easily corrected with supplements.
Getting your BP checked regularly is another easy way to stave off or discover serious health complications. One in every three adults has elevated blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension is often called a “silent killer” because symptoms may not show up until it’s too late as it increases your risk for stroke or heart attack.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that every adult should get a baseline eye screening at the age of 40. Then, they recommend annual screenings if you need vision correction, and every other year if you don’t. This may seem like a trivial thing but many eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, and other vision issues are deteriorative, so the sooner you catch them the sooner preventative measures can be taken.
No one loves going to the dentist, but they play a crucial role in maintaining your physical well-being. Oral health is important to keeping your natural teeth, which is critical for avoiding painful dental procedures and needing expensive prosthetics. Gum disease can also lead to other health complications: research has linked periodontal disease to heart complications, strokes, diabetes, and respiratory issues.
Hearing tests don’t need to be done annually unless you have underlying conditions, but they should be performed at least every two to three years. Yes, they could lead to you using a hearing aid. Yes, that can be an embarrassing indicator that you are indeed aging. And yes, it would be really silly to not treat hearing loss as early as you can for vanity’s sake. Recent research has indicated that hearing loss is a causal factor to developing dementia, which is a lot worse than just needing to turn up the volume on the TV.
Bone Density Scan
Regular bone density scans that detect osteoporosis are recommended after age 65, especially for women, who are at higher risk. Weaker bones can lead to more broken bones during a fall as well as less stable balance. Approximately 75 million people in Japan, Europe, and the US are affected by this condition, which can lead to debilitating injuries.
Women over the age of 55 should have an exam every 2 years, or every year if you have a family history of breast cancer. As with many diseases, early detection is important to surviving, so wouldn’t you rather get squished just to be safe?
Equally uncomfortable and important, regular pelvic exams (including pap smears) can help detect cancers and help with issues such as incontinence or pelvic pain. There is some debate in the medical community (as well as insurers) about how frequently these exams should occur. The U.S. The Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women between the ages of 21 and 65 have a pap test every three years, or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test — or a combo of the two — every five years, starting at age 30. But then, women over the age of 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests, or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years. (Women who have a history of a more advanced precancer diagnosis should continue to be screened for at least 20 years.)
Prostate Cancer Screening
The ladies don’t get to have all the fun! The American Cancer Society suggests that doctors discuss screening with people who have average risk for prostate cancer starting at age 50 (and earlier if the risk is higher due to family history.) Prostate cancer is the most common cancer amongst men after skin cancer, but it is also one of the most treatable if discovered early.
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