Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Necessary medical exams

Preventing disease is just as important, if not more so, as treating disease. This is because, once aberrant physiology takes a hold, it causes more problems, sometimes irreversible ones. Which tests are necessary depend on your age, family history, gender, and current health condition. However, when recommending must-have medical tests to any particular person, there are a few that stand out to mention regardless of the specifics.

Blood pressure check

A regular physical is important for a number of reasons, one of them being blood pressure monitoring. With the increasing rate of childhood obesity and general overweight nature of the adult population of the developed world, hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure) has become a serious public health issue. This disorder increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and it is present in nearly two-thirds of the population over age 60, with some ethnic groups, such as African-Americans, at particular risk of developing it even younger. If your blood pressure is consistently measuring higher than 120/80 mmHg, you may be at risk of hypertension (currently defined as a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher). Your family doctor can help suggest lifestyle adjustments to control your blood pressure and prevent the disease, or treat you if you have hypertension.

Dental exam

Dentists are often forgotten about when one is considering their health, but research described by the American Academy of Periodontology found that oral health has an impact on heart health. One theory is that, when an infection occurs in a tooth, it can travel via the blood to other organs. Inflammation in the gums may also be associated with swelling of the arteries. For those who already have heart disease dental check-ups are extremely important - stroke and coronary artery disease both seem to be exacerbated when dental health is ignored.

Gynecological exam

Women are an entire subspecialty of medicine because of the extra care they require for their reproductive system. Many tests fall into this type of doctor visit. The Pap smear is an extremely important screening tool to catch cervical cancer early. Current guidelines recommend a Pap test starting at the age of about 21 (or when becoming sexually active if a family history is concern) and then repeating every 3 years. Women over 30 years old are recommended to have HPV co-testing every 5 years and a Pap every 3, though women with multiple negative tests and no new partners may space their Pap test every 5 years. Women over 40 years of age will also want to have a mammogram, which screens for breast cancer. The annual visit to the gynecologist is also a way to ensure that other aspects of this usually unseen body system is healthy with a pelvic exam, as well as to discuss birth control options, fertility questions, menstrual complaints, and other related issues.

Cholesterol check

High cholesterol is a risk factor for atherosclerosis – a fatty build-up in the arteries that can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Individuals who smoke, have a family history of heart disease, or are obese should start monitoring their cholesterol levels in their 20s. Others can wait until their 40s. Because this condition has no symptoms until it is too late, monitoring cholesterol levels in the blood is important to preventing disease. Diet and lifestyle factors can be altered prior to disease if the levels are too high, though pharmaceutical treatment is also available to keep the balance between good and bad forms of cholesterol.

Colorectal exam

Both men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer after age 50, earlier for those with a family history of the disease. Colonoscopy is the most well known screening tool, which involves inserting a small camera to look for polyps in the colon, but the NationalCancer Institute describes several other tools you may encounter when visiting your doctor.

Prostate exam

Men should have their prostate examined by digital rectal exam starting at age 40 to ensure the gland is normal size. A somewhat enlarged prostate is normal as a man ages but can still cause uncomfortable and unhealthy issues with urination and may also be a sign of prostate cancer when paired with positive results using other screening tools.


Be sure to discuss with your doctor the pertinent exams for your age group and medical history.

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