In the USA, only one in five Americans gets an annual checkup, according to a wide-ranging review that was published in 2012. At 20%, that barely scratches the surface of the American population.
After the coronavirus restricted the accessibility of personal doctors and clinics, the world is now slowly reopening, and we can start to go back to our normal ways of life. However, in this unique moment, this raises a question of self-reflection: what are those routines that we can do without and what are those which should remain a focus?
In the same vein, which medical tests are absolutely necessary to be done regularly for our health, safety and wellbeing and which can be left postponed for a later date?
Outlined below are those tests which can genuinely improve your quality of life through their preventative qualities, while not loading your schedule with unnecessary visits.
Important Medical Exams for All
1. A Yearly Physical Exam
Most clinics offer yearly physical examinations performed by your personal doctor. These exams usually involve blood pressure, vital signs and weight checks. In general, this is a quick visit and can be done relatively painlessly, although your doctor may need to draw some blood.
In particular, testing blood pressure on a regular basis is very important as there are usually no external signs of symptoms that your blood pressure may be too high. It may be too late to find out whether or not your blood pressure is too high if you put off such a test, so make sure you test it regularly.
Furthermore, if you like to make sure your children are in good shape, a yearly exam before the school year starts is probably a good time to do it.
2. Regular Blood Tests
Blood tests are not everyone’s idea of a good time, but they provide your doctor with vital information about your health and wellbeing.
Most basic blood tests include tests of glucose levels as well as a total blood count. Blood sugar levels indicate whether or not a person has diabetes, while a total blood count provides vital information about the overall health and number of red and white blood cells. An elevated number of white blood cells is one potential indicator of serious conditions like cancer.
Of course, blood tests can show more than just that, with certain tests involved in the chemical panel being able to check heart, liver and kidney function as well as smaller conditions, such as infections, cholesterol levels and anemia.
3. Eye Examination
While this may seem like a test necessary only for those with poor vision, this test is actually essential for maintaining general eye health and is key to identifying a number of different conditions, including, shockingly, diabetes and brain damage.
For example, slit lamp tests, which is where the doctor rests your chin on a plastic stand and swivels a mirror and a light back and forth in front of your eye, can identify conditions like cataracts, corneal ulcers and macular degeneration as well as diabetes. The visual field tests, on their side, is where the doctor covers an eye while getting you to look at something in the distance, allowing them to identify any brain damage from a stroke or tumor and enabling them to observe any potential deficiencies in your eyesight.
4. ENT Checkup
The fluid in your ears is vital for your balance. It’s therefore essential to ensure that everything is in order with your eyes. If you regularly suffer from nausea, vertigo or dizziness or have balance issues, it may be worth getting annual checkups.
Likewise, the nose is bombarded with a variety of different substances from day to day, so in order to help with allergies and to prevent the growth of polyps, you should take the time to visit an ENT doctor.
5. Dermatology Test
Those of a fair complexion, gifted with freckles or moles, may need to regularly have their moles assessed for changes. When exposed to the sun, freckles, moles and dark spots can develop into melanoma, which is much more sinister, and even peeling skin can be a sign of something more serious.
Maintaining regular visits to a dermatologist can be the key to nipping melanoma in the bud, while also ensuring that you keep up the good practice of checking yourself according to the ABCDE method of checking.
6. Colorectal Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the second most dangerous cancer in the U.S. It is therefore vital to catch it before it becomes too late. For those around the age of 50, this should be checked for and monitored on a regular basis to ensure that appropriate action can be taken as soon as possible.
There are a variety of methods for checking for colorectal cancer, some more invasive than others.
The most invasive are the colonoscopy and the flexible sigmoidoscopy. The colonoscopy is where a camera is attached to a flexible tube and inserted via the anus in order to check the condition of the colon. The flexible sigmoidoscopy only checks the lower third of the colon.
By contrast, the CT colonography and double-contrast barium enema are less invasive. The CT colonography uses a CT scan to take pictures of the inside of the colon with a CT scan. After the double-contrast barium enema has been inserted, x-rays of the colon and rectum are taken. As barium is a silver-white metallic compound, it helps to show abnormalities in the colon.
While not necessary to perform this test yearly, it’s recommended that people have one done every five years.
7. Bone Density Checkup
As we age, our bones weaken. For those of us with pre-existing conditions, such as vertebral deformities or previous fractures, the risk of osteoporosis is higher. Yearly checkups can help make sure that the condition is well managed and under control to ensure that their twilight years are spent in good health.
It is recommended that this test be taken by those over the age of 50 with pre-existing conditions. For those without, you may not need to take this test until in your 60s, and even then only once every five years.
8. Mental Health Checkups
In a time of high stress, what with work-related concerns and worries at a time of global crisis, depression and anxiety can manifest with physical symptoms, such as elevated blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure can lead to stroke and cardiac arrest.
Of course, mental health checkups do not mean regular meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist; talking to your personal doctor and informing them of your concerns or stressors means they are in a position to monitor your stress or anxiety levels and can recommend appropriate action when needed.
Important Medical Tests for Women
1. Pelvic Exam and PAP Smear
Every woman over the age of 21, and perhaps younger if sexually active, should have a pelvic examination and PAP smear every one to two years. After the age of 30, you can have them performed slightly less frequently.
Both are vital for the prevention of cancer. If abnormal cells are found, doctors can act swiftly to prevent the condition worsening. Pre-cancerous cells can be removed and further tests performed; cancerous cells can be assessed as to their extent and action can be taken to ensure their complete removal.
As a further service, doctors can assess the patient for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the same time.
2. Breast Exam
Women over the age of 40 or with a history of breast conditions should consider having yearly mammograms. Mammograms involve light compression of the breast in order for an x-ray to be taken.
This x-ray is then analyzed to assess whether or not there are any abnormalities. Such tests are essential in preventing the spread of breast cancer.
Important Medical Tests for Men
1. Prostate Exams
For men, prostate cancer is a very common form of cancer. Exams are therefore advised for preventative reasons.
There are several ways to test for signs of prostate cancer, with some causing apprehension, but the least invasive is a simple blood test. This blood test assesses the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the patient’s blood. Another method is a rectal exam, which is where the doctor examines the prostate for cancer indicators.
2. Hernia and Testicular Cancer Check
Doctors recommend that men self-check in order to assess whether or not they have any abnormalities on their testicles, but at the same time a doctor’s opinion can be very helpful if you’re not sure.
It is recommended that men under the age of 40 have regular testicular examinations, while men who lift heavy weights should get themselves checked for hernias as they are generally more susceptible as a result due to weaknesses in the abdominal wall native only to men. Regular physical exams can help reveal hernial swellings or other growths, as can scans.
Staying Healthy for The Long Haul
It’s not always easy to make the time to see the doctor, but the benefits can be enormous. As you make plans for the rest of the year in a potentially COVID-free world, don’t forget to prioritize your own health and don’t put important exams aside.