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Simple health screening tests you absolutely need

The single biggest killer of adults over 65 is chronic disease. Heart disease, cancer, and stroke account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths among people, aged 65 and older. The real tragedy is that many of these diseases are preventable with lifestyle changes and careful screening.  Too many older Filipinos aren’t getting screened, though — even those who can afford it. It is probably safe to say that fewer than one in 10 seniors get all of their recommended screenings and immunizations.

“People are often afraid of having some of these tests or get complacent when their results have been okay in the past,” says Audrey Chun, MD, medical director of the Coffey Geriatrics practice at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “But these tests can save your life. Catching high blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol early can prevent diseases like heart attack and stroke. Detecting cancer earlier means a better likelihood of a cure.”

Here are simple tests you absolutely need on a regular basis:

Blood Pressure

What it tests: The force of blood moving through your artery. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work to keep the blood moving through your body. High blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke, heart failure, and heart attack.

How it is done: Your doctor or nurse will use a device called sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. A material cuff will go around your arm. It will be inflated, briefly stopping the blood flow to your artery. As the air is released, the person taking your blood pressure will use a stethoscope to listen to the blood beginning to flow again in the artery.

What your test results mean: The top number is the systolic blood pressure (the pressure of the blood flow every time your heart squeezes and pushes blood out). The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in between beats when your heart fills up with blood). A normal reading for an older adult is 120/80 millimeters or mercury (mmHg) or below.  High blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above.

How often you need it: Once every year; more often if your blood pressure is high.

Lipid Panel

What it tests: The amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat the body uses to store energy) in your blood. Both cholesterol and triglycerides have been linked to heart disease.

How it is done: Blood is drawn through a needle in your vein and collected in a vial for testing. For best triglyceride results, do not eat or drink anything except water for nine to 12 hours before taking the test.

What your test results mean: Your total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL); your optimal LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level depends on your risk of cardiac disease, but in general, it should be below 130 mg/dL if you are not at high risk; an optimal HDL (“good”) cholesterol is equal to or greater than 60 mg/dL; anything less than 40 mg/dL should be of concern.

How often you need it: Once every five years; more often if you have a history of high cholesterol.

Colon Cancer Screening

What it tests: Colorectal cancer almost always develops from growths called polyps. Colonoscopy can detect polyps before they turn cancerous. Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and the more sensitive fecal immunochemical blood test (FIBT) detect the presence of blood which comes from the fragile surfaces of polyps.

 How it is done: Colonoscopy is done while you are sedated. The doctor will use a thin lighted tube to look at the inside of your rectum and colon. Occult blood test is tested through the lab using a stool specimen you have provided.

What your test results mean: If your FOBT or FIBT test detects blood in your stool, you will need to have a follow-up colonoscopy. Abnormal colonoscopy results can indicate lower gastrointestinal bleeding, polyps (which can be removed during the procedure), a tumor, or diverticulosis.

How often you need it: You should have FOBT once a year and a colonoscopy once every 10 years.

Blood Sugar

What it tests: The amount of sugar in your blood. High blood sugar could indicate that you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.

How it is done: For a fasting blood sugar test, you don’t eat or drink anything but water for eight hours before the test. A blood sample is collected through a needle in your arm.      

What your test results mean: 70 mg/dL is normal; 100 to 125 mg/dL is pre-diabetes; 126 mg/dL or higher could indicate diabetes.

How often you need it: Every one to three years.

Bone Density (Women)

What it tests: The density of calcium and other minerals that are packed into a segment of your bone. The less dense your bones are, the more likely they are to break. A bone mineral density test can detect whether you have osteoporosis.

How it is done: You lie on a padded table while a device moves over you, taking x-ray pictures of your bones.

What your test results mean: Anything within one standard deviation (SD) below what would be the norm for a 30-year-old woman is normal; one to 2.5 below the norm indicates low bone density or osteopenia; more than 2.5 SD below the norm indicates osteoporosis.

How often you need it: Have this test if you’re a woman over age 65, or if you are over 60 and at risk for osteoporosis. Your doctor may recommend that you repeat the test every couple of years to check your treatment.

Abdominal Ultrasound (Men)

What it tests: The presence of an abdominal aneurysm, a ballooning of the vessel that supplies blood to the lower part of your body. If can be life-threatening if the aneurysm ruptures.

How it is done: You will lie down on a table while a technician moves a handheld ultrasound probe over your abdomen. The test is painless but you may have to hold your breath.

What your test results mean: If the doctor finds an aneurysm and it’s small, you will probably need to be rechecked periodically. A larger aneurysm (more than two inches in diameter) may require surgery.

How often you need it: You need this test at least once if you’re a man over age 65 who has smoked 100+ cigarettes, or a man or woman with a family history of aneurysm.

Mammogram (Women)

What it tests: The presence of abnormal tissue that could indicate breast cancer.

How it is done: You stand in front of an x-ray machine while the technician presses your breast between two plastic plates to make your breast flat, and then takes x-rays.

What your test results mean: If the radiologist sees an abnormality in your breast, you may need to have another mammogram, an ultrasound, or a biopsy to make a diagnosis.

How often you need it:  Every one to two years.

What You Can Do Now

• See your doctor every year for a checkup. If you’re not getting the tests mentioned in this column regularly, make sure that you ask to do so.

• Here are a few other screening tests that you should get regularly:

1) Teeth and gums: Visit your dentist once a year for checkups.

2) Hearing: See your doctor for a test if you’re having trouble hearing conversations or the television at normal volume.

3) Vision: See your ophthalmologist every year or two to check for common eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

4) Skin: Visit your dermatologist once a year to look for any abnormal skin changes or moles.

These relatively simple tests can save your life, so why are you putting them off?

source: Philippine Star

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