The Top 10 Tests You Need This Year
Karla Robinson, MD
The New Year for many means a renewed commitment to faith, family, and personal goals. Making your health your primary investment should top the list of priorities. In an effort to ensure that you are equipped with the tools necessary to accomplish this goal, we have outlined the top 10 tests you should be asking your doctor about this year. Make 2012 your healthiest year yet!
- The Complete Blood Count (CBC): This important test gives an assessment of the health of the red blood cells, white blood cells, as well as the platelets and is useful in screening for anemia, infection, inflammation, and other blood disorders. In women who are menstruating, this test is important as there may be an undiagnosed anemia due to monthly blood loss. For men, and women who are postmenopausal, the most common cause for a low blood count is undetected blood loss from the GI tract, and can often times be the first sign of colon cancer or other gastrointestinal problems. This is one test you definitely need to have each year to detect hidden disease processes early on.
- Thyroid Screen (TSH): This screening test is a measure of the health of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating the metabolism in the body and if diseased it can lead to many symptoms including weight changes, mood changes, neck fullness, fatigue, anxiety, elevated cholesterol, heart rate disturbances, and skin and hair changes. Recent estimates indicate that tens of millions of people have a thyroid disorder in this country and many are undiagnosed. Make sure you have your thyroid checked each year.
- Vitamin D screen: This test has been getting a lot of attention recently as it has been linked to many body systems including the cardiovascular system, immune system, and the neuromuscular system. Normal vitamin D levels are thought to be helpful in protecting against high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune diseases. Statistics on the rates of vitamin D deficiency in African Americans vary widely with reports ranging from 40% to over 90%. Unfortunately, many are suffering from a deficiency in this important vitamin without even knowing it.
- Body Mass Index (BMI): It is not enough to leave your doctor’s office knowing your height and weight, it is necessary to know the BMI as it can have important health implications. The BMI is a test assessing your body fat as it relates to your height and your weight, and it is has been used to screen for the risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases. BMI levels in the range of 18 to 25 are considered normal weight, 25 to 30 are considered overweight, and those levels over 30 are in the obese range. Obesity has been linked to many chronic illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea, elevated cholesterol, liver disease, and infertility.
- Waist circumference: As a separate indicator of risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, central obesity is best measured by waist circumference. This test is best used to detect hidden dangers in those in whom the BMI falls between 25 and 35, but it can also be used in those with a normal BMI range. Waist circumference can also be particularly useful In the case of those with increased muscle mass, as the BMI may overestimate the risk of chronic disease. Don’t rely on your clothing size to accurately reflect your waist circumference. This is a test that should be performed by using a measuring tape at the upper hip bone and placed around the girth of the abdomen. Used in conjunction with the BMI, this test can be a reliable measure of risk of chronic disease.
- EKG: This test is used to check for changes in the electrical activity of the heart. Enlargement of the heart, damage to the heart muscle, and rhythm problems can all be detected using an EKG. It is necessary to have an EKG performed as a baseline before problems arise. A normal EKG is then helpful to use as a comparison if symptoms of heart trouble ever develop in the future.
- Hemoglobin A1C: Traditionally used as a test in known diabetics to assess control of their disease, this test is now recommended to be used as a screening test to detect diabetes. This test is a measure of blood sugars over the last few months, and those with an A1C greater than 6% need further evaluation and consultation. 1 in 5 African American adults over the age of 20 have diabetes, and many of them are undiagnosed. It is important to note that the A1C should not be used as a diagnostic test in those with recent blood transfusions, chronic kidney or liver disease, and anemia.
- Cholesterol: Each adult should know their cholesterol level. For those with an increased risk of heart disease, as in the case of African Americans, cholesterol screening should begin at age 20. Assuming it is normal, cholesterol levels should then be checked every 5 years thereafter. If abnormal, it should be treated and checked more frequently. Elevated cholesterol has been linked to stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, and Alzheimer’s.
- Complete Metabolic Panel (CMP): This test includes a screening of the common electrolytes essential for the normal functioning of the body. Sodium, potassium, calcium, and glucose are all included in this test and abnormalities in the levels of these electrolytes can reveal underlying medical problems. Kidney and liver function tests are also included in this test and can be used to detect chronic disease before many symptoms are present.
- Urinalysis (UA): This test is used to detect the presence of metabolic, kidney, and bladder disorders through examining the urine. In addition to being used as a tool to monitor the progression of illnesses such as high blood pressure, and lupus, it can also be used as a tool to detect undiagnosed diabetes, urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and liver disease.