3 Health Screenings You May Not Know About – But Should

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Doctor is talking to and examining the patient while nurse is taking notes in medical chart

We all know that having a regular check-up with your primary care provider is an important part of maintaining good health. Another part of routine, preventive care is health screenings that can detect diseases and identify your risk of certain conditions.

While it is easy to put off getting these screenings or make excuses, it is important that you get these tests when they are recommended, says University Hospitals internal medicine physician Anthony Miniaci, DO.

“Undergoing any health screening can be a little stressful and you may be tempted to delay getting them,” says Dr. Miniaci. “However, these tests are essential to ensuring that we manage risks and conditions early so they do not become an issue down the road.”

Many of us are aware of standard screenings such as a yearly mammogram for women 40 and older or a colonoscopy after age 45. But there are other screenings that are less well known but can be equally important for many people.

Low-Dose Lung CT Scan

This quick and easy test screens for lung nodules that could potentially indicate lung cancer. The scan takes about five to 10 minutes and uses a much lower dose of radiation than a typical computed tomography (CT) scan.

Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in adults, killing about 1.6 million people every year. Once the cancer has progressed, treatment options become limited, so catching it in the earliest stages gives you the best chance of survival, Dr. Miniaci explains.

This is why getting a low-dose CT scan is such an important step for people who are at higher risk of developing lung cancer. This includes individuals ages 50 and older who:

  • Are current smokers
  • Are former smokers who quit within the last 15 years
  • Smoke/smoked at least 20 pack-years (A pack-year measures how much someone smokes over time. For example, 1 pack-year is equal to smoking 1 pack a day for 1 year, or 2 packs a day for 6 months, and so on. Calculate yours here.)

The scan should be repeated yearly, or more frequently depending on the results.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening

This screening test tests for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), or a bulging or weakened area in the wall of the aorta that causes the blood vessel to swell or balloon. Most aneurysms never cause any complications; however, in rare cases an aneurysm could suddenly rupture, which can cause internal bleeding and is a life-threatening emergency.

The AAA screening is a simple ultrasound scan of your abdomen. This screening can detect high-risk individuals so that their care team can manage the issue before it becomes a problem. If the ultrasound reveals abnormal findings, the aneurysm will be monitored every 6 to 12 months. If it continues to grow, surgical repair may be recommended.

This screening is recommended for individuals at a high risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm. This includes men ages 65 – 75 with a history of smoking and/or a family history of AAA repair or rupture. The screening may or may not be recommended for women with these risk factors; you should discuss the potential benefits with your physician before undergoing the screening.

Coronary Calcium Score

The coronary calcium score screening involves a CT scan that is focused on the coronary arteries of your heart to look for any calcifications or coronary deposits in the arteries. The test can help determine your future risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease is consistently one of the leading causes of death every year, and calcium scoring has shown to be one of the most accurate predictors of coronary heart disease risk, Dr. Miniaci says. This screening is recommended for individuals over age 40 who have no symptoms but have risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, history of smoking or type 2 diabetes. It is also recommended for those with a family history of heart disease at age 55 or younger in men or 65 or younger in women.

This screening test is non-invasive, takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and uses a very low dose of radiation. The results of your calcium score test will help guide how you manage your risk for heart disease. Strategies can include lifestyle modifications for lower risk individuals, or statin medications for those at an elevated risk.

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At University Hospitals, we believe having a primary care provider is essential to your health and well-being. Our primary care physicians and nurses provide comprehensive, compassionate and continuous primary care for patients of all ages. We are committed to building a healthy relationship with you and your family to detect and minimize long-term health issues, or just help you get over that illness that's going around. Need a primary care provider? Find one here.

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