Periodic Health Checkups

With the current technology, we can only work on maximizing our chances to stay healthy. However, sometimes we just get sick.

Fighting disease in early stages significantly improves chances of beating it, so it’s critical to detect dangerous diseases early. For that, we need regular tests.

The following list of yearly tests is a good balance between risks and resources required for getting tested (costs and time). Some of them are included in your health insurance.

Blood pressure

Since it can vary due to various factors, your should perform two or more blood pressure readings at various times, and evaluate the average.

Blood tests

Routine blood tests should include

Urine & Stool

When you go to labs for blood tests, bring urine & stool as instructed, for

Ultrasound

Ultrasound is safe, noninvasive and does not use ionizing radiation. Check

  • upper and lower abdomen, including the liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and uterus/prostate
  • thyroid

Breast ultrasound isn’t good as a screening tool. It doesn’t show microcalcifications, the most common feature of tissue around a tumor. Mammography is better at detecting early sings of cancer, but uses ionizing radiation.

Ideal: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

MRI is safe, noninvasive, and does not use ionizing radiation. Do not overuse contrast agents.

Ideally, do yearly MRI scans of specific body segments at risk for you (eg. full abdominal, or breasts for women)

A whole body MRI scan (which is neither sensitive, nor specific) might discover some cancers early, but only by chance. Better save your money for specific segment scans.

Colonoscopy

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of overall cancer death. The death rate has been dropping for several decades. One reason for this is that colorectal polyps are now more often found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers.

The doctor looks at the entire length of the colon and rectum with a colonoscope, a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. It’s put in through the anus and into the rectum and colon. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy (sample) or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed.

The colon and rectum must be empty and clean. Do not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your test. Your doctor will give you specific instructions. It’s important to read them carefully a few days ahead of time, since you may need to follow a special diet for at least a day before the test and to shop for supplies and laxatives. If you’re not sure about any of the instructions, call the doctor’s office and go over them with the nurse.

Because a sedative is used during the test, you will need to arrange for someone to take you home after the test.

Recommended: every 2 years.

Ideal: Capsule endoscopy

Doctors can see a lot of the digestive tract using upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, but it’s harder for the small intestine to be seen this way. Cancers in this area are rare, but tumors and other problems such as ulcers can develop here.

One way to look at this area is to use capsule endoscopy. A person swallows a capsule that contains a light source and a tiny camera. It travels through the small intestine, which usually takes about 8 hours, and takes thousands of pictures. These pictures are sent to a device worn around the person’s waist, while he or she goes on with normal daily activities. The pictures can then be downloaded onto a computer, where the doctor can look at them as a video. The capsule passes out of the body during a normal bowel movement and is flushed away.

This technique may help find the source of bleeding, pain, or other symptoms that may be coming from the small intestine, but it’s not useful for looking closely at the colon or other parts of the body.

Dentist

The dentist will give your teeth a thorough cleaning, scraping off plaque and tartar. She/he will examine your teeth, gums, and mouth, to look for changes or signs of a problem.


That’s all, for now. We’ll continue to update the list and Monthly Actions reminders as science advances, and costs for medical tests go down.

Get reminded when to do each health checkup

More checkups

In some cases, additional checkups are recommended

Electrocardiogram (EKG / ECG)

Only for people who have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or chest pain. EKGs can sometimes show mild nonspecific abnormalities that are not due to underlying heart disease, but cause worry and lead to follow-up tests and treatments that you do not need.

Computed tomography (CT)

As it exposes tissues to radiation, perform a CT only when specifically asked by your doctor. Use MRI instead when possible.