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4 Medical Tests That Might Save Your Life

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.

TEST High-sensitivity
C-reactive protein

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
, 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.

TEST Audiogram

Rock concerts, noisy traffic,
and even just wearing extra-loud
headphones can break
down the inner ear cells that
control hearing over time. If
you're concerned, consider
this test, which is administered
by an audiologist.

During the exam, you'll be
asked to react to different
noises by repeating words and
responding to various pitches.
If you have hearing loss, you'll
be referred to an ear, nose, and
throat specialist for an examination
to pinpoint the exact
cause: Benign tumors, ear
infections, or a perforated ear
drum may all be culprits. If
your loss is permanent, you can
be fitted for hearing aids.

Who Needs It
"All adults
should have a baseline audiogram
at age 40," says Teri
Wilson-Bridges, director of the
Hearing and Speech Center in
Washington, D.C. But experts
advise having your hearing checked
earlier if you've had any trouble
distinguishing sounds, are experiencing
dizziness or a ringing sound
in your ears, or have any risk factors,
such as a family history of hearing
loss or a job that requires working in
a very loud environment.

TEST Glaucoma

"Half of the people who have
glaucoma don't even know it," says
Louis Cantor, M.D., director of
glaucoma service at the Indiana
University School of Medicine.
Each year at least 5,000 people lose
their sight to this disease, which
occurs when the fluid pressure in
the eye rises and damages the
optic nerve. "By the time someone
notices that something is wrong
with her vision, nearly 80 to 90
percent of the optic nerve could
have already been damaged."

Safeguard your sight with a yearly
glaucoma check. It includes two
tests often given at annual eye exams:
tonometry and ophthalmoscopy.
During a tonometry, your doctor
measures the inner pressure of the
eye with a puff of air or a probe.
Ophthalmoscopy is used to examine
the inside of the eye. The doctor
will use a lighted instrument to
examine the optic nerve.

Who Needs It
Although glaucoma
is often considered a disease that
affects only the elderly, about 25
percent of sufferers are under the
age of 50. According to the
Glaucoma Research Foundation,
adults should have their first
glaucoma screenings at ages 35 and
40, but African-American and
Hispanic women—or anyone with
a family history of the disease—
should be tested every year after
the age of 35 because they are
at a higher risk.

Though there's no cure,
the good news is that glaucoma
is very treatable, says
Cantor. "Once the condition
is diagnosed, we can prescribe
eye drops that will prevent the
damage from getting worse."

TEST Vitamin B12

If you never seem to have
enough energy, this simple
screen may be in order. It
measures the amount of vitamin
B12 in the blood, which
helps maintain healthy nerve
cells and red blood cells in the
body. "In addition to fatigue,
low levels of this nutrient can
cause numbness or tingling in
the arms and legs, weakness,
loss of balance, and anemia,"
says Lloyd Van Winkle, M.D.,
a clinical associate professor
at the University of Texas Health
Science Center in San Antonio.

Over the long run, a vitamin B12
deficiency can raise your risk for
depression and dementia. If you're
diagnosed with the condition, your
doctor can prescribe high-dose
supplements in pill, shot, or nasal
spray form. She may also test you
for pernicious anemia, a disease in
which the body is unable to absorb
vitamin B12 properly.

Who Needs It
Consider this test if
you're a vegetarian, since the only
dietary sources of vitamin B12 come
from animals. One German study
found that 26 percent of vegetarians
and 52 percent of vegans had low B12
levels. You should also ask your doctor
about the test, which costs $5 to
$30 and is covered by insurance
plans, if you have any of the symptoms
mentioned above.