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Five Must-Have Medical Tests

Susan Yara,|Special to CNBC.com
Friday, 18 Jun 2010 | 3:38 PM ET

Being proactive about your health doesn’t have to be a daunting task. The first step is to take a look at your lifestyle choices to decide if they’re having a negative impact. In fact, it can be as easy as stepping onto a scale.

Sphygmomanometer
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Sphygmomanometer

Dr. Harry Ginsberg, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, recommends weighing yourself on a reliable scale at least once a year. What may seem like negligible weight gain can actually pile up.

"If you’re weight is creeping up by three pounds a year, after ten years that means you’ve gained 30 pounds," he says. "That can be quite significant."

Research shows that obesity contributes to a slew of medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and various cancers. Your lifestyle choices are so important that the American Institute for Cancer Research says healthy diets along with maintenance of physical activity and appropriate body mass can reduce the incidence of cancer by 30 percent to 40 percent. For a person who doesn’t have a genetic predisposition to cancer, a percentage like that can make all the difference.

"As a patient you have the ability to not only prevent, but also treat numerous conditions with your own lifestyle modifications," says Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation at Loyola University Medical Center.

"Tests aren’t the primary goal in your physician’s visit, it’s really important to address identifiable risk factors like a detailed family history, then utilize your physical exam to select appropriate screening, then address lifestyle changes."

So while it is definitely time to schedule an appointment for a physical with your primary physician, keep in mind it’s also time to put that donut down and start making plans to hit the gym. After all, there’s no better way to assure your medical screenings come back with uplifting results than with exercise.

Must-Have Tests

  • Cholesterol/Lipid Profile Screen
    When you go to the doctor to get blood tests, they check for HDL, LDL and total cholesterol. HDL (High Density Lipoproteins) are healthy cholesterol that should be at high levels in the body—55 or greater for women and 45 or greater for men. On the other hand, LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) are bad and should be kept at levels under 100. Added together, the HDL and LDL levels equal one's total cholesterol, which generally should be low.
  • Blood Pressure/Obesity Screen
    High blood pressure is one of the most important, and yet preventable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It’s often called "the silent killer" and can harm a person’s body for years before actual symptoms develop, which is why it’s even more important to get your blood pressure tested.
  • Fasting Blood Sugar Screening for Diabetes
    Diabetes is one of the most common health problems in the country. Many experts agree that a fasting blood sugar level above 100 mg/dl is abnormal, between 100 and 125 mg/dl is a warning sign that you may develop diabetes, and levels above 125 mg/dl are highly suggestive of diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular Screening with Exercise Stress Test
    According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 785,000 Americans had a new heart attack in 2009 and about 470,000 will have a recurrent one. Even more powerful is that every minute an American will die from a coronary problem such as a heart attack, which is why it is important to get a cardiovascular screening with a stress test. If you have two or more cardiovascular risk factors such as a family history of heart disease, then get the screening done before vigorous exercise.
  • Colon Cancer Screening with Colonoscopy and FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Testing)
    Colorectal cancer becomes more common as you age, so doctors usually screen people for colorectal cancer when they turn 50 and older. Screening should begin earlier if you have risk factors that make you more likely to get colorectal cancer at a young age such as a family history of colon cancer.