Ask About These Lifesaving Medical Tests

Are your health screenings up to date?

by Peg Rosen
Photograph: Illustrated by Bryan Christie

To get the best possible medical care, you may need to speak up. “The key is knowing your own health history and risk factors and determining with your doctor what’s right for you,” says New York cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD. Here, the tests to discuss with your doctor during your next visit.

Glomerular Filtration Rate Screen

This blood test, which gauges how well kidneys remove waste from the body, can detect early signs of renal disease, which is on the rise in the U.S. 

Who Should Get It? Adults with risk factors for kidney disease, which include: a family history of diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure; chronic use of anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen.

How Often? Every three to f?ive years

Next Steps If results show mild dysfunction, your MD will probably monitor you and encourage
lifestyle changes. For advanced cases, drugs can help. Go to kidney.org for more information.
 

25-Hydroxy Vitamin D Test
Most Americans don’t get enough D, which is a problem because sufficient quantities are necessary to ward off osteoporosis. The blood test determines how much 25-hydroxy—a precursor to vitamin D—is in your system. 

Who Should Get It? Anyone who lives north of Atlanta, uses sun block, is a person of color or spends a lot of time indoors. Over-40 women should consider the test, since osteoporosis risk increases as estrogen ebbs.

How Often? Every six months unless otherwise specified

Next Steps OTC supplements are used to boost levels. “If levels are very low, prescription-strength doses might be necessary,” says Larisa Connors, MD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Hemoglobin A1c
Unlike blood glucose tests, which give a snapshot of blood sugar levels, A1C reflects a three-month average. “It helps catch early cases of diabetes,” says Lauren Golden, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York. 

Who Should Get It? Diabetes experts suggest screening at age 45—and earlier if you have a family history of diabetes or a personal history of gestational diabetes, being overweight or hypertension.

How Often? Twice a year, or more frequently if necessary

Next Steps If A1C results are elevated, the test may be repeated to confirm a diagnosis. “In many cases, diabetes can be controlled with lifestyle changes instead of medication,” Golden says.

DNA with Pap Test
While regular Pap smears detect abnormal cells, this test can identify the human papilloma virus (HPV) before precancerous cellular change occurs, says Mindy Goldman, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco.

Who Should Get It? All women over 30, since HPV can lurk undetected for decades. HPV-vaccinated women should also be screened, as the shot only protects against some cervical cancer–causing strains.

How Often? Every three years when results are normal (plus annual pelvic exams)

Next Steps A positive HPV test with a normal Pap result may indicate a need for repeat testing. If your DNA test is positive and your Pap is abnormal, you may need a colposcopy and a biopsy.

Baseline Electrocardiogram
A baseline picture of the healthy heart’s function can help physicians track negative changes later in life. Electrodes on your chest collect information. 

Who Should Get It? “Everyone will likely have cardiac issues eventually, so it’s good to get a
baseline by 50,” Connors says. (Earlier if you’re at risk.)

How Often? As symptoms, such as shortness of breath, occur

Next Steps If the doctor finds abnormalities, she might order further testing. Otherwise, results will be used as a reference when you’re retested.
 

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