It’s time to take charge of your health. Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help detect problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better.
By getting the right health services, screenings and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life. Your age, health and family history and other important factors impact what and how often you need healthcare. Lifestyle choices are equally important factors, such as what you eat, how active you are and whether or not you smoke.
Screenings are tests that look for diseases before you have symptoms. Screening tests can find diseases early, when they’re easier to treat. You can get some screenings in your doctor’s office. Others need special equipment, so you may need to go to a different office or clinic.
Common Screenings for Men and Women
There are 10 tests that both men and women should have.
Colon Cancer Screening: Have a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. Other acceptable methods are a fecal occult blood test, which is annual, and a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
Cholesterol testing: You should first have this test at age 20 and then every one to five years. Have it annually beginning at age 40. In addition, have your blood cholesterol checked regularly with a blood test if:
• You use tobacco.
• You are overweight or obese.
• You have a personal history of heart disease or blocked arteries.
• A male relative in your family had a heart attack before age 50 or a female relative, before age 60.
Depression: Your emotional health is as important as your physical health. Talk to your health care team about being screened for depression, especially if during the last two weeks:
• You have felt down, sad or hopeless.
• You have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things.
Diabetes screening: Diabetes can cause problems with your heart, brain, eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves and other body parts. Therefore, this test should be annual beginning at age 40.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV): Get screened one time for HCV infection if:
• You were born 1945 to 1965.
• You have ever injected drugs.
• You received a blood transfusion before 1992.
If you currently are an injection drug user, you should be screened regularly.
High Blood Pressure: Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. High blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney and eye problems and heart failure.
HIV: If you are 65 or younger, get screened for HIV.
Lung Cancer: Talk to your doctor or nurse about getting screened for lung cancer if you are between the ages of 55 and 80, have a 30 pack-year smoking history and smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years. (Your pack-year history is the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day times the number of years you have smoked.)
Overweight and Obesity: The best way to learn if you are overweight or obese is to find your body mass index (BMI). You can find your BMI by entering your height and weight into a BMI calculator (www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm).
Sexually Transmitted Infections: Sexually transmitted infections can make it hard to get pregnant, may affect your baby and can cause other health problems. Get screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea infections if you are 24 years or younger and sexually active.
Screenings for Women
There are tests that are specific to women. These include the following.
Cervical Cancer Screening (Pap Smear): Starting at age 21, get a Pap smear every three years until you are 65 years old. Women 30 years of age or older can choose to switch to a combination Pap smear and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years until the age of 65. If you are older than 65 or have had a hysterectomy, talk with your doctor about whether or not you still need to be screened.
Breast Cancer Screening: In addition to regular breast self-exams, mammograms are recommended yearly or every other year, beginning at age 40 or 50.
Osteoporosis Screening: Have a DXA scan once after age 65 or if you are at high risk for osteoporosis (bone thinning). Have a screening test at age 65 to make sure your bones are strong. The most common test is a DEXA scan—a low-dose X-ray of the spine and hip. You should also be screened if you are younger than 65 and at high risk for bone fractures.
Screenings for Men
If you are a male, consider these screenings.
Prostate Cancer Screening: According to the American Cancer Society, starting at age 50, men should talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of testing so they can decide if it is the right choice for them. If there is a history of prostate cancer in the immediate family, men should consider screening at 45.
Abdominal Aneurysm Screening: Between ages 65 and 75, if you have a history of smoking (smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime), get screened once for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). AAA is a bulging in your abdominal aorta, your largest artery. An AAA may burst, which can cause dangerous bleeding and death.
Take Steps to Good Health
In addition to getting screened, you should also be proactive about your health with these steps.
• Be physically active and make healthy food choices. Learn how at www.healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/nutrition-and-physical-activity.
• Get to a healthy weight and stay there. Balance the calories you take in from food and drink with the calories you burn off by your activities.
• Be tobacco-free. For tips on how to quit, go to www.smokefree.gov or call the National Quitline at 800-784-8669.
• If you drink alcohol, have no more than two drinks per day if you are 65 or younger. If you are older than 65, have no more than one drink a day. A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
You know your body better than anyone else. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any changes in your health, including your vision and hearing. Ask them about being checked for any condition you are concerned about, not just the ones here. If you are wondering about diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or skin cancer, for example, ask about them.
As with any medical advice, schedule an appointment with your health care provider to discuss what screenings and exams you need and when you need them.