Ask About These Lifesaving Medical Tests

Are your health screenings up to date?

by Peg Rosen
Photograph: Illustrated by Bryan Christie

Comprehensive Glaucoma Screening: “Everyone deserves a comprehensive glaucoma exam,” — the precise measurement of internal eye pressure with a device that comes in contact with the eye (not that perfunctory puff of air that only roughly gauges pressure), according to Nancy Fan-Paul, M.D., M.P.H., at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Ophthalmologists (who are M.D.s) and some optometrists offer this service.Who Should Get It/When: Experts recommend a baseline glaucoma screening by age 40; earlier if you have a family history of glaucoma or other risk factors, such as nearsightedness and diabetes.

How Often: Every 1-3 years

Next Steps: There is no cure for glaucoma, but medication (usually in the form of eye drops) and in severe cases, surgery, can limit optic nerve damage and help avert blindness.

High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein Test: Hailed several years ago as a major new tool for detecting heart disease in the general population, this simple blood test that gauges inflammation in the body hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, due to high false positive rates and questions about whether it brings anything truly new to the picture. HsCRP can, however, tip the balances for your doctor if she’s on the fence about treating you for borderline high cholesterol. It is also often recommended for people who have two or more risk factors for heart disease, such as a family history and smoking.

Full Body Skin Exam: If your dermatology visits are limited to Botox and dermabrasion, you and your doc are both missing the boat. “Skin really is the mirror of your health. In 25 years, you wouldn’t believe the diagnoses I’ve made while doing a screening exam,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. Jaliman isn’t just talking about melanoma and other types of skin cancer, which is in itself reason enough to go. Everything from our scalp to our nails can provide telltale signs of diseases and disorders ranging from lymphoma to anemia. “A thorough exam is not a door-on the-handle affair,” says Jaliman, noting that a derm who means business will ask you to strip naked and will use magnifiers to check you from head to toe, including your scalp, between your toes, and—in some cases—on your vulva and between your buttocks. “I found breast cancer on the nipple of a woman that her own breast doctor missed. Truly, there are ways a good dermatologist can save someone’s life that most people will never think of.”
Who Should Get It/When: Anyone old enough to have skin should have a regular dermatological exam, says Jaliman only half kiddingly. For sure, adults over 40 should go at least yearly; more often if they have a personal history of skin cancer or history of sunburn and moles.
Next Steps: If a lesion is considered suspicious, a dermatologist may biopsy it in her office. Depending upon results, more of the lesion may have to be removed or further treatment may be needed.

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