Boomer Survival 101 – Simple Medical Screening That Can Save Your Life

colonoscopy10Just before I decided to retire I went to the doctor for the first time in many years.  I don’t recommend others wait as long as I did.  I am just not personally a doctor person.  I went for a simple concern and ended up with almost thirty thousand dollars worth of tests and screenings unrelated to my original concern.  I went to one general practitioner who referred me to three different specialists including a Gastrologist, Urologist, and Cardiologist.

I endured an EKG, extensive blood tests, multiple urine tests, PSA, Nuclear Stress Test, Abdominal Ultrasound, two Abdominal CT Scans (one without contrast and one with barium, Echo Cardiagram (with iodine), Colonoscopy, Cystoscopy, more blood tests, and much more.  When all was done, ”Doc” couldn’t find a single thing wrong with me except that I was in my mid-fifties.   He started recommending one more specialist (a Hemotologist) and I said, No Thanks!  Thank god for insurance!  He knew I had it and I believe he wanted everyone to get their cut before I lost it!

What is really necessary for a Boomer to feel safe?

Many doctors are starting to question which tests are beneficial and under what circumstances. As a result, they are setting off some highly charged debates in the medical community and beyond.  Many medical experts have gone out of their way to strongly recommended against the full-body CT scan that has been so heavily marketed to consumers in recent years.  What about X-rays, MRIs, Ultrasounds and other very expensive approaches to tracking down abnormalities and usually lead to more tests?  Some require high levels of radiation.  All are expensive.  Many times they are determined to be not worth the stress, cost, and pain.  Are they really necessary or effective?  So which tests are essential?   

Routine screenings recommended by the USPSTF (which is supported by the Department of Health and Human Services), such as mammograms and colonoscopies, are critical to spotting emerging health problems and heading off disasters and the potential benefits far out weigh whatever risks are involved.

Medical Tests Recommended For Boomers By USPSTF

The following is a list of recommended screenings by the USPSTF (U.S. Preventative Services Task Force):

1) Blood Cholesterol– A blood test to measure “good” cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol, and total cholesterol.

When – on a regular basis; high cholesterol is considered a red flag for heart disease and other medical issues, so talk about the test with your doctor.

Cautions: None.

2) Blood Glucose – A test for levels of blood sugar which can reveal the risk for or the presence of diabetes.

When – If you have high blood pressure or a family history of diabetes.

Cautions: None.

3) Blood Pressure – A test that measures the force of blood flow inside the arteries; high levels could signal heart disease, diabetes, or other issues.

When – At least every two years; if blood pressure is 120 to 139/80 to 90 every year; if higher more often.

Caution: Many doctors prefer to check more regularly.

4) Body Mass Index – A formula that calculates your body fat – and obesity risk – using your weight and height.

When – No specific USPSTF recommendation, monitor regularly.

Caution: Doesn’t take in to consideration frame size or muscularity, so athletic types may show up as overweight.

5) Bone Density – An X-ray that measures calcium and other minerals in the bone to check for osteoporosis.

When – Starting at age 65, or at 60 if you have risk factors such as low body weight or a family history of osteoporosis.

Caution: Some doctors recommend a baseline at menopause, or before for those with risk factors.

6) Colonoscopy – An exam that uses a camera to check for cancer, polyps, ulcers, and other abnormalities in the colon and rectum.

When – Starting at age 50, and every 10 years afterward- more often if you have risk factors – until 75.

Caution: A small risk of perforation of the colon lining increases with age.

7) Mammography – A low-radiation scan of breast tissue in women to check for abnormalities.

When – Every 1 to 2 years, starting at age 40.

Caution: Some doctors recommend CT scans or MRIs, but only for women with very dense breast tissue or implants.

8) Pap Smear – A test to detect changes in the cells of the cervix that indicate cervical cancer.

When – At least every 3 years, but if you’ve had 3 consecutive normal tests within the past 10 years, you can stop at age 65.

Caution: Make sure of your doctor’s approval before stopping this test.

What else?

If you are noticing something different, though – pain, fatigue, persistent cough, – additional specialized diagnostic tests may be appropriate.  But if those tests involve radiation (a CT scan of the abdomine or spine, for example, equals three years of normal daily radiation) the  following three steps are recommended.

  1. Ask the right questions – find out why the doctor is ordering the tests, what the risks are, and if there are alternative diagnostic tools available.
  2. Keep an X-Ray History – A simple notebook listing date, type of scan, and location of the tests will do.
  3. Don’t double dose on tests – Even if earlier scans screened ailments that are now not the problem, let your doctor know about them, too.  Sometimes a scan will encompass several organs, although only one is the focus.  If a new scan is needed, the earlier scan can provide a basis of comparison.

Most importantly – Listen to a good, honest, qualified doctor or health professional.  Have good insurance and hang on to your wallet.

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