You wouldn't dream of skipping your annual Pap or even your twice-ayear teeth cleaning. But there are a few tests you may be missing that can spot early signs of heart disease, glaucoma, and more. "Doctors check for common problems, but you may need to ask for a specific screen if you're at risk for a certain disease," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Women's Heart Program at the New York University Medical Center. Acquaint yourself with these tests and your body will thank you.
This simple test measures the amount of inflammation in your body by examining levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) in your bloodstream. The body naturally produces an inflammatory response to fight off infections and heal wounds. "But chronically high levels may cause your blood vessels to harden or fat to build up in your arteries," says Goldberg. In fact, CRP may be an even stronger predictor of heart disease than cholesterol: According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, women with elevated CRP levels were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than those with high cholesterol.
Excess CRP has also been linked
to the development of other problems,
including diabetes, high blood
pressure, and Alzheimer's disease.
"The test is like an early warning
system for your entire body," says
Goldberg. If your level is high (a
score of 3 milligrams per liter or
more), your physician may recommend
that you exercise 30 minutes a
day and up your intake of produce,
whole grains, and lean protein. She
also may suggest taking medications,
such as cholesterol-lowering statins
or aspirin, to fight inflammation.
Who Needs It
Women with several risk factors for heart disease, meaning those with high cholesterol (200 or more milligrams per deciliter) and blood pressure (140/90 millimeters or more of mercury) and a family history of early heart disease. Ask for the high-sensitivity CRP test rather than the standard one, which is used for diagnosing conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. The screen costs about $60 and is covered by most insurance plans.