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Your Annual Checkup

Recommended Tests and Procedures for Seniors

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Updated February 24, 2010

Most of us know we should have an annual checkup, but do we actually do it? If we have one every year, do we actually know if it is complete? And do we understand the tests and examinations we are having done? Most of us will answer "no" to at least one of those questions.

However, there is no excuse for not having a thorough yearly exam. Medicare is now covering many of the tests that should be done during your annual checkup.

Routine Tests for All

  • Blood Pressure: Your blood pressure should be checked during every visit to your doctor. Checking it at your yearly checkup will set a baseline.

  • Height: Significant loss of height can indicate the acceleration of osteoporosis. Height is lost as a result of compression of the spinal cord.

  • Weight: Significant weight loss or gain without trying can signify serious health problems. Weight gain can mean fluid retention or perhaps heart, liver or kidney disease. Weight loss could indicate infection or cancer.

  • Blood Work: Yearly blood work should include a blood count to rule out any bleeding problems, glucose levels to detect diabetes, thyroid function tests to rule out any thyroid disorder, and blood electrolyte counts, which can detect kidney problems and early heart problems. Your doctor may also check some additional labs depending on your personal and family history.

  • EKG: It is recommended that a baseline EKG be done for both men and women around age 50. It should then be done at least every two to three years, or more often if necessary.

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test: This test should also be done yearly. Blood in the stool can be an early indication of colorectal cancer.

  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy/Colonoscopy: The recommendation is that a sigmoidoscopy be done every four years or a colonoscopy every two years for anyone with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Tests For Men

  • Prostate Exam: Staring at age 50, a man should have a digital exam of his prostate. The physician uses a gloved finger in the rectum to determine if there is any enlargement of the prostate. Enlargement could indicate benign enlargement or even cancer.

  • Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA): Prostate Specific Antigen is a blood test that can indicate prostate cancer. If the level is high, a biopsy of the prostate may be needed. Routine PSA screening is recommended by some doctors, but not by others. Men over the age of 50 should discuss the pros and cons of PSA screening with their doctors.

Tests For Women

  • Mammogram: Women over 50 should have regular screening, and many experts believe that routine mammograms should begin at age 40. Women between 40 and 50 should discuss the pros and cons of regular screening mammograms with their doctors. During the checkup, the doctor should perform a clinical breast exam. Monthly self breast exams should also be done, and you can be taught this technique during your yearly checkup.

  • Pap Smear and Pelvic Exam: This test should be done every three years, or yearly if at higher risk for cervical or vaginal cancer.

  • Measurement of Bone Mass: There is no standard for frequency of this exam. Women with a family or personal history that puts them at higher risk of osteoporosis should have this test.

Other Concerns

You should review all medications with your doctor, even over-the-counter medications. You should also discuss having a flu shot. If the flu vaccine is not yet available during your exam, make a follow-up for that.

If you are a diabetic, your doctor should examine your feet and order additional tests for your blood sugar.

Your annual checkup is also the time to discuss any emotional problems you are having. If you feel sad or lack energy, tell your doctor. Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health.

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