We all know the importance of regular Pap smears and the standard second yearly mammograms for women aged 50+ but are there other lesser known tests that people should be making sure they do throughout the year?
Well of course it all depends on the individual, their previous medical history and family history and their individual vulnerabilities and concerns however here are some health checks to consider:
- If you have asthma or chronic obstructive airways disease then doing regular spirometry or lung function tests would be important.
- Anyone over 50 would benefit from doing regular faecal occult blood testing but some people, especially those with a family history of polyps or bowel cancer, should also consider colonoscopy. Depending on your individual risk factors your doctor can advise you what age to start and depending on the result of your first colonoscopy, your specialist and GP will recommend how long to wait before having the next.
- Of course women over 50 are encouraged to have second yearly screening mammography but those with risk factors such as strong family history may well be advised to begin breast imaging sooner.
- Getting your eyes checked – including intraocular pressure and visual fields, as well as visual acuity of course – is a good idea, especially as you get older, even if you are not aware of any specific visual disturbance.
- Checking your blood pressure, height, weight and waist circumference is very straightforward – so much so that you can of course do it yourself. However it is a good idea to do it with your GP so the appropriate lifestyle and treatment advice can be offered to you.
- It is also a good idea to have a medication review or ‘medicines check-up’ with your GP at regular intervals, such as yearly, to ensure you still need to take all the medication you are on and to make sure they are still appropriate for your needs and your condition. It may also be worth asking if there are any new medications that may have superseded yours, either being more effective, cheaper, easier to take or offering a better side effect profile.
- Checking your bone mineral density may be necessary if you have risk factors for osteoporosis. Is there a family history? Do you smoke? Are you underweight? Do you have an inadequate calcium intake or are you vitamin D deficient? Are you over 50 years of age? Are you on corticosteroids (for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory condition)? Did you experience early menopause or are you a male with low testosterone? Do you drink to excess or have a relatively sedentary or inactive lifestyle? These are all risk factors for osteoporosis that you should discuss with your GP. Whilst some – like vitamin D deficiency – are reversible, others are not and doing a bone mineral density test (BMD) may be important since diagnosing osteoporosis and treating it may save you suffering minimal trauma fractures.
- Reviewing your diet and exercise regimen may also be beneficial, especially if you are finding it difficult to achieve or maintain a healthy weight or if you have a tendency to suffer dietary deficiencies.
- Checking your blood sugar and cholesterol levels may be important especially if you have risk factors or family history of diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease.
- Depending on your risk factors for heart disease, there may be other specialised tests that may be warranted. Your GP can refer you for these as required.
- Reviewing your prostate and reporting any symptoms of poor flow, hesitancy, straining, dribbling, frequent urination, getting up several times per night, sensation of incomplete emptying and the like is important too especially for men aged over fifty.
- Talk to your GP too about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening with blood tests and physical examinations.
As you can see, there are numerous tests that may apply to each of us but no two people are necessarily the same in terms of which tests should be prioritised. You are an individual and any testing should – by and large – be tailored to your needs.
So see your GP, ideally someone who is familiar with your medical history and family history, and talk about what tests you would benefit from having this year.