A savvy investor wouldn’t spend just 20 minutes a year with a financial advisor and expect to be in sound fiscal health, so why would anyone think his annual physical is enough to flush out medical problems before they get ugly?
Disease prevention lies in your own hands, says David Sandmire, M.D., a professor of biological sciences at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, and coauthor of Medical Tests That Can Save Your Life. You have to be an active participant. There are a significant number of medical tests that doctors might not order unless you ask for them. Below are nine that should be routine for certain patients. Each one has the potential to save your life, Sandmire says. And to keep your body in top form at all times, be sure to adopt The 100 Easiest Ways to Be a Healthier Man Right Now.
High-Sensitivity C-reactive Protein Test
What it does: measures levels of a protein in the blood that’s indicative of inflammation, which can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.
The procedure: Blood test.
Ask for it if: You are over 35 and have at least one major risk factor for heart disease or stroke, like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, or a family history of heart disease or stroke.
What it does: Examines the carotid arteries (the two main blood vessels to your brain) with B-mode imaging, which creates a 3-D picture of each artery wall, and pulsed Doppler scanning, which measures the speed of blood flow through the arteries.
The procedure: A technician moves a handheld ultrasound probe over the carotid arteries.
Ask for it if: You are over 50 and have other major risk factors for heart disease or stroke or have experienced symptoms of a ministroke (transient ischemic attack).
Electron Beam Computed Tomogram
What it does: evaluates the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries, a predictor of heart disease.
The procedure: A high-tech imaging machine scans your chest and produces pictures of your organs much faster than traditional CT and MRI scanners do, resulting in improved clarity and detail.
Ask for it if: You are over 35 and have two or more major risk factors for heart disease.
What it does: Checks blood levels of homocysteine, a natural amino acid linked to a higher risk of developing plaque in the arteries.
The procedure: You fast for at least 8 hours before a blood test.
Ask for it if: You are over 35 and have at least one major risk factor for heart disease or stroke.
Isotope Treadmill Stress Test
What it does: Helps identify the location and severity of reduced blood flow to the heart.
The procedure: The ITST has three parts: imaging at rest, a treadmill stress test, and imaging after exercise. For the stress test, a cardiologist monitors your heart rate and blood pressure while looking for irregular heart rhythm and changes in EKG pattern. Then a nuclear isotope is injected in preparation for post-workout imaging. A scanning machine shoots 3-D images of your heart, and the isotope dye shows where blood flow is hampered by plaque.
Ask for it if: You are over 45 and have three or more major risk factors for heart disease or are planning to start a vigorous aerobic exercise program.
Fasting blood glucose test
What it does: Measures the glucose level in blood to determine the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
The procedure: You fast for 8 to 12 hours before blood is drawn.
Ask for it if: You are 30 or older and have any risk factors, like obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, family who have type-2 diabetes, or African American, Native American, or Hispanic ethnicity.
What it does: Looks for inflammation, abnormal growths, and early signs of cancer in the colon.
The procedure: A physician passes a colonoscope up the entire colon. You’ll get a sedative to keep you comfortable during the 15- to 30-minute exam. The toughest part is drinking a laxative fluid the day before to cleanse your bowels.
Ask for it if: You are 50 or older, or 40 or older with risk factors like inflammatory bowel disease, history of colon polyps, smoking, heavy alcohol intake, or family members who’ve had colon cancer.
What it does: Evaluates bone mass density to determine the strength of your bones and risk of osteoporosis (porosity of your bones).
The procedure: You lie on a padded platform for a few minutes while an imaging device passes over your body.
Ask for it if: You are over 50 and have two or more risk factors for osteoporosis, which include smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine use, a diet low in calcium and vitamin D, and a family history.
The PSA Test
What it does: Measures a protein in your blood that’s suggestive of prostate cancer at certain levels.
The procedure: Consider a PSA velocity test, in which blood is tested three times over 24 months. A significant rise in total PSA may warrant investigation.
Ask for it if: You are 50 or older. Begin testing at 45 if you have risk factors such as smoking, African American ethnicity, a family history of prostate cancer, or a diet high in animal fat. For more expert advice, read How to Cancer Proof Your Prostate.