Protect Your Health By Getting Regular Screenings
Health Screenings for Men and Women
Catching a problem in the earliest stages usually means you have the best chance of solving it. That's definitely the case when it comes to your health. Seeing your family physician regularly, even if you're in perfect health, is essential.
Health screenings check for certain signs of common chronic conditions or cancer. They let you know if you're doing fine or if you need to make some lifestyle changes or consider medication. Your family physician performs health screenings or can send you to the lab to have bloodwork done. Although there are some screenings that are only for male patients or only for female patients, some health screenings are recommended for everyone, no matter their sex.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the body and found in certain types of food. Your body needs cholesterol, but too much of it increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Around 38% of adults in the U.S. have high cholesterol levels, over 200 mg/dL1.
When you should start cholesterol screenings depends on your sex, risk factors, and family history. Women who don't have risk factors or a family history of high cholesterol can start screenings at age 452. Men without a family history or risk factors for high cholesterol should begin screening at age 353.
If a person has any risk factors, they should start getting screened at age 20.
People who receive normal screening results only need to get tested every five years. More frequent screening is recommended if the results are high.
Blood Pressure Screening
High blood pressure also increases a person's risk of developing heart disease and stroke, plus kidney disease. Usually, it has no symptoms, which is why regular screenings are important. The recommendation is for every adult to get screened at least every two years2,3. If you see your doctor for an annual exam, they might check your blood pressure every year, even if it's normal.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, although there is some debate about this. Your provider might screen you more frequently if you have an upper number between 120 and 139 and a lower number between 80 and 89.
If your blood pressure is above 120/80, your provider can recommend lifestyle changes and treatment options to bring it down.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body no longer responds to insulin effectively. Insulin is the hormone that lets sugar into your body's cells. When insulin can't do its job, the sugar remains in your bloodstream.
High levels of blood sugar can cause serious health problems over time, such as vision issues, kidney disease, and heart disease. Diabetes screenings look at the level of sugar in your blood after a period of fasting. If the level is above 126 mg/dL, you have diabetes. A level between 100 and 125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes. Fasting blood sugar below 99 mg/dL is considered normal4.
When your provider recommends screening for diabetes can depend on your weight and other risk factors. If you have high blood pressure, your provider might recommend screening right away, no matter your age.
If you have a family history of diabetes or are overweight, with a body mass index of more than 25, your provider might recommend screening beginning at age 352,3.
If your screening test reveals that your blood sugar levels are in the "pre-diabetes" phase, you might be able to reverse things by changing your diet, losing weight, and exercising more. Lifestyle changes can also help if your blood sugar levels are above 126, but you're likely to need medication, as well.
Other Health Screenings
In addition to checking your blood pressure and running blood tests to screen your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, your family doctor might recommend screening for depression, HIV, or colorectal cancer. If you have risk factors for certain types of infectious disease, your doctor might recommend tests to check for those, as well.
Many chronic medical conditions start small and are easy to treat or reverse in the earliest phases. Work with your family doctor to set up a health screening schedule based on your family history and other risk factors.
1. Cholesterol, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/index.htm
2. Health Screenings for Women, Medline Plus, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007462.htm
3. Health Screenings for Men, Medline Plus, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007464.htm
4. Diabetes Tests, Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/getting-tested.html