By the age of 50, there are probably some medical tests that you’ve had performed routinely for years, but the results of the tests can become increasingly important as you age because your risk for certain diseases and illnesses increases. There are also a number of tests that you should begin having after age 50. Others, you may need to have performed more frequently. Here are some of the biggies.
Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray image of your breast that is used to detect tumors and other abnormalities within the breast tissue. It’s recommended that women over 50 have a mammogram every year for the best chance of early detection.
Colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, a thin tube with a small camera attached is used to check the entire color and the lower part of the small intestine for tumors, polyps and other potential problems, as well as to screen for various cancers. For most people the difficult part is the prep, which involves ingesting a special drink that basically induces diarrhea in order to clean out your colon. The colonoscopy is performed under total anesthesia. It should be performed every ten years or as directed by your doctor.
Cholesterol screening. It’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years, especially as you get older, since high cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke and coronary heart disease, both of which you are already at a higher risk for after 50. It’s a simple blood draw, the results of which are used in combination with with your family and medical history, to determine how likely you are to have complications related to elevated cholesterol.
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Eye exam. Eye tissue can degenerate as you get older, affecting your vision. It’s important to have a yearly exam once you reach the age of 50, especially if you have any other illness that can be associated with vision changes such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Your eye doctor will check your vision, eye pressure, muscle strength and other aspects that can affect eye health.
Combo pap smear/HPV test. A pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer, and can be performed on its own every three years. However, you can now have a combination pap smear/human papillomavirus test performed every five years through the age of 65 instead. HPV may cause cervical cancer, so if the test is positive, you may be a carrier of the virus. But if both are negative there is very little chance that you will get cervical cancer in the future.
Full-body skin exam. During your yearly physical exam–which you should surely continue to undergo–be sure to have your general practitioner perform a full-body skin exam. You should be checking your skin regularly on your own, but your doctor will be able to see areas that you physically cannot, as well as detect any potential irregularities that as a lay person you may not.
Bone density test. Our bones can lose density as we age, which increases the risk of fractures. If your bone density is below a certain level, you will be diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. Once you’ve had your initial bone density test performed, if your results are negative for osteoporosis, you may be able to go as many as 15 years before being retested.
Blood chemistry tests. Different from a complete blood count which measures the cells in your blood, blood chemistry tests check factors for various illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, liver disease and multiple myeloma, as well as how well your organs are functioning. You can have these tests performed yearly via a simple blood draw.