Alesia Greene: How Routine Screenings and Preventive Care Can Save Your Life

The rising health risks associated with our over planned, busy lifestyles have become common knowledge in the popular press over the last ten years. It is well advertised that Americans are more overweight than other developed countries with 39.8 percent of adults categorized as “obese” (Centers for Disease Control). We are also less physically active, as only 20 percent of us complete the recommended 2.5 hours of weekly moderate exercise than at any other time in our history. 

This trend has led to a greater incidence of chronic diseases. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 9.4 percent of the adult population has diabetes and, more shockingly, more than 25 percent of these people do not even know that they have diabetes. That is more than 7 million Americans.

All of these factors contribute to heart disease, which remains the #1 cause of death with cancer-related deaths close behind, despite advances in cancer screening and detection.

One factor of concern is the confusion about what types of preventive care and screenings are recommended. There are a number of expert specialty groups which have suggested varying strategies and all of these conflicting guides can be overwhelming.

As a starting point, it is always best to be engaged with your primary care provider who can review your unique health factors and provide you with personalized guidance. Screening is especially important after the ages of 35-40 as your risk for chronic diseases and cancer rise as you get older.

While you may need to consult with your individual provider for some of your unique requirements, there are some overall preventive screening guidelines that are recommended for almost everyone. Here are a few that have high agreement among the experts:

  • Blood Pressure — Unfortunately, elevated blood pressure, or hypertension usually does not cause symptoms. The risks of untreated high blood pressure include increased heart attack, stroke and kidney damage. Screening is recommended at least every three to five years for all, but annually for adults older than 40 or at increased risk. While checking your blood pressure at drug stores is a reasonable initial step, it is important to get a formal blood pressure screening at a doctor’s office. To get accurate blood pressure readings the machine must be calibrated frequently and, most importantly, be the right size for your arm. Cuffs that are too small or too large can give you an erroneous reading. The goal for a normal blood pressure is less than 140/90. If either the top or the bottom number are too high, this could signal high blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol (Lipids) — High cholesterol seldom presents symptoms, although some people can develop cholesterol deposits in the skin, especially around the eyes, if they have extremely high cholesterol levels. Fasting lipid panels are recommended for all adults aged 40 and older with use of a risk calculator to help determine who should be treated if high cholesterol is detected. Those with a 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke greater than 10 percent should discuss treatment with cholesterol-lowering medication. It is important to note that this calculator is only intended for adults without a known history of cardiovascular disease.
  • Diabetes — Remember, 25 percent of Americans with diabetes do not know they have the disease. Early in the course of the illness, high blood sugar may not have a lot of symptoms except frequent urination or increased appetite and thirst. Screening should be started early for those at risk, but annual screening for adults older than 45 is recommended with fasting blood sugar or Hemoglobin A1C. A normal fasting blood sugar should be less than 100. People with diabetes are defined as fasting blood sugars greater than 126 or a Hemoglobin A1C greater than 6.5 percent. Less commonly, a random non fasting blood sugar over 200 can also indicate diabetes. What does that mean for people with numbers between 100 and 126? They are considered pre-diabetic or sometimes also called metabolic syndrome/insulin resistant. These people can usually improve their blood sugar by weight loss and exercise changes, ultimately avoiding or delaying the development of full-blown diabetes.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Alesia Greene