There are many diseases that can lead to serious complications. Some can even become fatal if left undetected or untreated for too long. Usually, it is easier to try and prevent these diseases than it would be to cure them.
The best way to diagnose diseases before they become symptomatic is through health screenings where medical personnel perform tests to search for a specific disease.
There are two methods of conducting health screenings. The first is large scale tests carried out when a disease epidemic is suspected within a population. The second is preventive exams that can be conducted at health fairs, in elderly care facilities, or at schools; in most cases, preventive exams are performed during regular doctors’ visits.
Screenings for Children
Recommendations for screenings are based on age, gender, family history, and other risk factors.
For children, a traditional screening examination measures height, weight, blood pressure, vision, reading and learning abilities, spine structure, and physical mobility.
Additional tests may be performed in part to check for lead poisoning, diabetes, anemia, and tuberculosis.
Screenings for Adults
During a basic physical, doctors screen the body from head to toe looking for signs of a wide variety of diseases. Generally, a healthy individual should undergo a physical at least once every two years (or more often if advised by your doctor). A basic checkup begins with a complete examination to record important data such as height, weight, and blood pressure. Then a complete family history is taken. Blood – and frequently urine – tests are performed to check the complete blood count, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. For certain age groups, other screenings like measuring thyroid hormone levels or checking for sexually transmitted infections may be recommended.
Because heart attacks can strike suddenly and without warning, screening for heart disease is extremely important. Coronary screenings are suggested for people with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and a family history of heart disease. For someone who does not have these risk factors, it is to have blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked every two years.
Health care professionals screen for diabetes by measuring the glucose levels in the body after at least eight hours of fasting. It is especially important for people over the age of 45 to undergo diabetes screenings at least once every three years.
Vision and Glaucoma Screenings
A vision screening can help identify people who are at risk of suffering vision loss or other eye problems. People over the age of 40 should get their eyes checked at least every two to four years. Senior citizens and adults who require vision correction through glasses or contacts should undergo vision screenings more often.
Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve. Optometrists usually perform glaucoma screenings during a patient’s eye exam. Risk factors for glaucoma include advanced age and a family history of the disease. If left unchecked, glaucoma can progress until the patient becomes blind.
Melanoma screenings are designed to detect early signs of skin cancer. Doctors perform a visual skin examination; if any suspicious moles or discolorations are found, a biopsy is ordered. The biopsy can then determine whether cancerous cells are present in the body.
People who are at the greatest risk of developing melanoma have fair or easily-sunburned skin, a family history of the disease, or a personal history of melanoma. In addition, individuals who notice any change in size, shape, or color of a mole should undergo a melanoma screening as soon as possible.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer screenings check for any cancerous or pre-cancerous growths in the large intestine. These screenings are recommended for adults over 40 years of age or for people with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Senior citizens above 75 years should be screened annually for colorectal cancer. Methods for colorectal cancer screenings include:
Fecal occult blood test to check for blood in the stool
Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to inspect the rectum and lower colon for abnormalities
X-ray of the gastrointestinal tract
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include abnormal or irregular bowel movements, blood in the stool, and anemia.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become weak and fragile due to a loss of calcium, which results in decreased bone density. To screen for osteoporosis, doctors measure a patient’s bone mineral density and assess the risk of bone fractures. Health experts recommend that post-menopausal women have their bone mineral density tested at least once every two years, and men should be tested once they reach age 70.
Thyroid screenings assess how the thyroid functions and measure the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. The American Thyroid Association recommends that anybody above the age of 35 should be screened for abnormalities in TSH levels.
A routine dental examination should be conducted once or twice a year depending upon the advice of your dentist. During the exam, your dentist will examine your lips, gums, teeth, tongue, cheek linings, and the roof of your mouth. This purpose is to detect tooth decay, gingivitis, or any oral diseases that might lead to oral cancer.
For adults, hearing tests are usually done when patients notice signs of hearing loss. As people age, hearing loss becomes more common; it may also be caused by exposure to constant high decibel levels, medications that can damage the inner ear, the presence of a cancerous tumor, or many types of diseases. Hearing tests can also identify people who are at risk of developing auditory disorders such as tinnitus. People between the ages of 18 and 49 should have a hearing test at least once every 10 years. People age 50 and older should have a hearing test at least once every three years.
Screening Tests Specific for Women
A Pap smear is performed to look for the human papillomavirus (HPV) as well as cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions of the vagina and cervix. The test is performed on cells scraped from the cervix or vagina. An annual Pap smear is recommended for females above the age of 21 or those who have been sexually active for at least three years.
A complete pelvic examination is conducted to assess the health of the urinogenital tract and screen for any signs of cancer. During this examination, an instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina so that the upper vagina and cervix are both visible. An annual pelvic examination is strongly encouraged for women who are over the age of 21 or sexually active.
Breast Cancer Screening
An X-ray of breast tissue, or mammogram, is done to detect tumors that are too small to be discovered during a routine health checkup. If a breast abnormality is found, then an ultrasound may be used to determine if breast cancer is present. Women of any age should regularly perform self-examinations of their breasts to check for lumps or moles. Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should get a mammogram at least once every three years, while women over 40 should do so every one to two years. Those over 50 should schedule an annual mammogram.
Ovarian Cancer Screening
Though screenings for ovarian cancer are still in the experimental stage, some tests used to detect the disease include a pelvic examination, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a CA 125 test. A transvaginal ultrasound examines the vagina, bladder, uterus, and fallopian tubes for abnormalities. Elevated levels of CA 125, a substance released by cells into the bloodstream, indicates the presence of cancer cells.
Endometrial Cancer Screening
The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus where the fetus develops. Screening for cancerous growths in the endometrium and ovaries is done using tests such as ultrasounds and endometrial biopies. A Pap smear may be performed to identify the presence of cancer, but further tests will be needed to confirmendometrial cancer.
Screening Tests Specific For Men
Prostate health can be assessed by a blood test that measures the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA) and through a digital rectal exam. These tests, which are recommended annually for men over the age of 40, help doctors identify signs of prostate cancer. Older men, African-Americans, and those with brothers or fathers with prostate cancer are considered to be at higher risk of developing the disease.
Prevention is Better than A Cure
If a disease is detected in its early stage and treated promptly, you are much more likely to live a healthier life than if you had discovered the disease in its advanced stages. In other words, the cost and effort required to prevent a disease is much less than what it takes to cure it. Health screenings can help catch deadly diseases early - before they can damage your body.