Family Life | The importance of routine health screenings and exams

Family Life | The importance of routine health screenings and exams

By BRITTANY ALBRECHT

Regular preventive-care exams are key to identifying risk factors and health problems before they become serious.

Many diseases and deaths can be prevented by making healthy choices, such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active and getting recommended screening tests.

Take charge of your health today!

If you have not already done so, schedule an appointment with your health care provider to discuss what screenings and exams you need and when you need them.

"Prevention" is a buzzword in the health community. We hear it often, but what does it mean when it is put into action?

One of the main ways that we can utilize preventive medicine is by engaging in health screenings at the recommended ages.

This way, we can catch certain diseases and cancers before they progress and are hard to manage.

In some cases, we are not necessarily preventing the health problem from developing in the first place.

However, we are catching it in time to treat it effectively.

A big problem in our society is lack of knowledge and awareness when it comes to what health screenings are needed and when they are appropriate.

Although everyone is different, there are certain guidelines that are recommended by governing public health bodies such as the National Institutes of Health.

Listed below are the general recommendations for health screenings.

Earlier or more frequent screenings could be recommended depending on someone's past medical record and family history.

Annual eye exams

Not only are vision screenings important, but comprehensive eye examinations are also necessary.

A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the most effective detection method for open-angle glaucoma.

These annual examinations will help you determine if you are experiencing normal age-related changes with your eyes or disease-related problems such as glaucoma and cataracts.

Biannual dental exams

Dental exams are often skipped over when it comes to maintaining oral health.

It is important to be checked biannually to screen for throat cancers and periodontal disease.

Annual total skin exam

Another often-overlooked health screening is the total skin exam.

Although the frequency of these skin checks is at the discretion of your doctor, Blue Cross Blue Shield recommends annual skin examinations to check for skin cancer.

Blood pressure

To screen for hypertension, it is necessary to have your blood pressure checked.

Blue Cross Blue Shield recommends that someone be checked once every two years if their blood pressure is less than 120/80, and every year for those whose blood pressure falls in the range of 120-139/80-89.

Cholesterol

At the age of 18, everyone should be screened for lipid disorder, better known as high cholesterol.

More regular and frequent screenings may be needed afterward depending on the risk for heart disease.

Pap smear

For females aged 21-65, pap smears are helpful in identifying cervical dysplasia or cancer.

Blue Cross Blue Shield recommends that women receive a pap smear every three years.

Prostate exam

To detect and diagnose rectal tumors, prostate disorders, digestive disorders and other cancers, prostate exams are important.

These screenings should begin between the ages of 40-50 in men.

Your doctor will discuss with you how often to get prostate exams depending on your risk level.

Mammogram

Because many forms of breast cancer are significantly more treatable if detected early, mammograms are imperative.

During a mammogram, an X-ray picture is taken of the breasts to detect tumors and calcium deposits.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that women begin screenings around the age of 40.

Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a screen for ulcers, colon polyps, tumors and areas of bleeding or inflammation in the inner lining of the large intestine.

This health screening could help catch early signs of colorectal cancer. The NIH recommends this test be done at age 50.

After the initial screen, the frequency of future testing is determined by presence of abnormalities.

Bone density

The NIH recommends that men and women over the age of 65 receive bone density tests.

These tests screen for osteoporosis — loss of bone mass.

Brittany Albrecht, a family-life educator intern at the University of Illinois Extension serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties, can be reached at 217-333-7672. To read more family-life topics, visit the statewide family-life blog, 'Family Files,' at go.illinois.edu/familyfiles. For more information on family-life-related topics and programs, visit our local UI Extension website at web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv or contact Chelsey Byers Gerstenecker at 217-333-7672 or clbyers@illinois.edu.

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