Posted by Shelby Allen, RN, BSN, on September 18, 2015
Regular health screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks, can help prevent medical issues or detect them early. In many cases, the earlier a problem is detected, the more effective your treatment will be. Health screenings also give you a baseline of your current health, which can be helpful to compare with future screenings.
Types of health screenings
Ask your physician which health screenings he or she recommends. There are many different types of screenings available and the most common tests include:
Starting at age 18, have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. Ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. If your blood pressure is higher, then you need to be re-checked more often. If 140/90 or higher, talk to your physician about treatment options.
Cholesterol screenings can help decrease your risk of heart disease. You need your cholesterol checked at least every five years starting at age 20. If your cholesterol is abnormal, talk your physician about how often you need your cholesterol rechecked.
Generally, everyone should receive a blood sugar level screening by age 18 and every three years starting at age 45 to test for diabetes or pre-diabetes. The range of normal test results can vary, but generally, a test result of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Screening for osteoporosis often is recommended with a bone density test at age 65. This test is recommended for both men and women, however, women with risk factors for osteoporosis, such as having a slender frame or a fractured bone, should be screened earlier than age 65. The frequency of this health screening varies from woman to woman based on bone density and risk factors.
Body mass index (BMI)
This yearly screening includes measurements of your height and weight and a calculation of your BMI. BMI indicates obesity, which can assess the risk of serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Colon cancer screening tests generally start at age 50. Several screenings are available: Fecal/Occult test (yearly test), sigmoidoscopy (every 5 to 10 years) or a colonoscopy (every 10 years). Ask your doctor which test is right for you. Non-invasive virtual colonoscopy is another option. People with a greater risk of colon cancer may need earlier or more frequent cancer screening tests.
Mammograms and clinical breast exams
Women should add breast exams to their list of screenings. Starting around age 20, women should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years until age 40, when this should be done annually. This is a manual exam — your doctor uses her fingers to examine the breast for any lumps or abnormalities. A mammogram is an x-ray screening test for breast cancer. Women age 40 and older should have an annual mammogram.
Preparing for a health screening
Call ahead to ask if there is anything you should do to prepare for your health screening. For most screenings, no preparation is needed. However, if you are getting your blood drawn, you need to fast eight to ten hours beforehand and drink plenty of water. Drinking water before a screening helps hydrate your body and expand your blood volume so it is easier to draw your blood.
Keep a copy of your health screening to give to your doctor during your next appointment. If the results of your screening show an abnormality, it is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Even if you feel well, the sooner you start treatment the better your chances of a favorable outcome will be.