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Routine Health Screenings: What Tests Should You Be Getting?

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Updated April 28, 2014

It can be confusing to keep track of which tests you should regularly get to monitor your health. At minimum, there are some common health screenings you should be getting, according to experts at Baylor Medical Center. (Note: If you have a specific medical condition, you'll definitely need to discuss the need for additional tests, or the frequency of tests you get, with your doctor).

Test: Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
Frequency: At age 35 and every few years after that. For women 60 and above and men 70 and above: annual. Also, pre-conception, and during first-trimester of pregnancy.
Target results: TSH level of 0.3 to 3.0
Need to know: A TSH level above normal may indicate hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)...a TSH level below normal may indicate hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). (People with family history of autoimmune disease, or persistent thyroid symptoms but normal TSH, should also regularly get Free T4/Free T3 and thyroid antibodies profiles to diagnose thyroid disease. Also note that thyroid patients are typically tested at least twice a year, and more often as necessary.)

Test: Fasting blood glucose
Frequency: Annually
Target results: 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)
Need to know: Results between 100 and 125 indicate impaired glucose tolerance, also known as pre-diabetes, which warrants follow-up evaluation and testing. Results above 126 indicate the presence of diabetes. In the case of elevated blood glucose levels, physicians will typically prescribe changes in diet and exercise and possibly medication.

Test: Blood pressure
Frequency: Annually; more often in people with high blood pressure
Target results: 120/80 mm Hg (systolic pressure/diastolic pressure, measured in millimeters of mercury)
Need to know: High blood pressure (hypertension) is indicated by results above 140/90. Results between 120/80 and 140/90 indicate pre-hypertension. Medication and lifestyle changes are often prescribed for hypertension.

Test: Cholesterol
Frequency: Annually
Target results: Total cholesterol: 200 mg/dL or lower; LDL ("bad") cholesterol: 70 mg/dL or lower; HDL ("good") cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher
Need to know: Cholesterol is measured in total and individual readings. Medication and lifestyle changes, including decreased saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, are often prescribed.

Test: DEXA bone scan (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) for bone mineral density (BMD)
Frequency: Postmenopausal women under age 65, all women after age 65; sooner if you are at increased risk
Target results: T-score of –1 or higher (Your T-score is your BMD compared to the BMD of the average 30-year-old.)
Need to know: A negative T-score indicates that you have thinner bones than the average 30-year-old. A T-score of –2.5 or lower can indicate osteoporosis. The scan measures BMD in the spine and hip.

Test: Blood count (hemoglobin)
Frequency: Annually
Target results: 13 to 17 g/dL (men), 12 to 15 g/dL (women) (grams per deciliter)
Need to know: A low blood count (anemia) is fairly common in women of childbearing age. It's far less typical in men and can be a warning sign of colon cancer, warranting follow-up testing.

Test: PSA (prostate-specific antigen)
Frequency: Annually for all men after age 50
Target results: 4 ng/mL or lower (nanograms per milliliter)
Need to know: Elevated PSA levels can indicate prostate problems, including cancer, and should be followed up with a urologist.

Some other recommended screenings include routine tests such as a colonoscopy for people over the age of 50 (even earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer). Unless there's a family history or other cause for concern, women should have an annual pelvic exam and Pap smear as soon as they become sexually active or at age 18, and should begin having annual mammograms around age 35 or 40. Men should have annual prostate exams beginning at age 45. Certain self-exams also are recommended—breast exams for women and testicular exams for men—and should be performed monthly to check for signs of cancer.

Mary Shomon, About.com's Thyroid Guide since 1997, is a nationally-known patient advocate and best-selling author of 10 books on health, including "Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Docotor Doesn't Tell You That You Need to Know" and "The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss." Click here for more information on Mary Shomon.

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