When it comes to health, prevention is power and knowing your health status and risk factors is one of the best ways you can avoid chronic disease. I recommend that everyone get baseline lab tests, starting in their 30s, and repeat them yearly. If you keep track of what direction your values are going over time, you can intervene with lifestyle changes if you notice your numbers creeping in the wrong direction. This could prevent ever getting to the point where you are sick enough that a doctor can diagnose you with a chronic disease, like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or an autoimmune condition. Although I do recommend more advanced testing for some people, these are baseline tests and measurements that any doctor should be willing to order for you:
- Weight and BMI (body mass index): Know what you weigh, and notice how it changes over time. While you can be slightly out of normal range, if the scale is moving too far in either direction, it can signal health problems.
- Blood pressure: Hypertension (high blood pressure) is extremely common in the U.S. and is a risk factor for heart disease. Keep an eye on yours as you get older and take action (limiting salt, exercising more) if it starts to go up.
- Cholesterol: Your HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be high, but your total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, as well as your triglycerides, should be in the normal range. If they start to creep up, or HDL plummets, look to your diet.
- CBC: CBC stands for complete blood count, and this test looks at basic blood values, like red blood cell count, white blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and platelet count. When any of these goes out of range, it can suggest the possibility of many different health issues your doctor can investigate before they are advanced, such as infections, anemia, or even cancer.
- Comprehensive metabolic panel: More detailed than a basic metabolic panel, this test measures blood sugar, calcium, sodium, potassium, carbon dioxide, chloride, albumin, protein, liver enzymes, bilirubin, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine. Values out of range on this test can signal a problem with your blood sugar, electrolyte balance, liver function, and kidney function.
- Thyroid panel: Thyroid dysfunction is very common, especially in women over 40, so keep an eye on what your thyroid hormones are doing.
- Cancer checks: Pap smears, mammograms, and colon cancer screenings (and prostate screenings for you gentlemen) are instrumental in catching cancerous or precancerous cells before they can spread. Don’t put these off! These screening save lives.
These really are basic basics, I’ll talk about more advanced testing you can do, but start here and most importantly, keep track. Knowing your numbers and adjusting your lifestyle to keep them where they should be is one of the most powerful tools you have in controlling how well you age!
Learn more about telemedicine, a fairly recent trend in the medical world that has gained in popularity during the pandemic. For some, it can be a beneficial way to gain face-to-face access with a doctor from the comfort of your home. However, some patients miss out on some of the most important parts of the doctor-patient relationship when they aren’t in the same room as their doctor. Watch my segment on Telemedicine: Pro’s and Con’s, this could help you decide whether or not it’s right for you.