4 Medical Tests That Might Save Your Life

You wouldn't dream of skipping your annual Pap or even your twice-ayearteeth cleaning. But there are a few tests you may be missing thatcan spot early signs of heart disease, glaucoma, and more. "Doctors checkfor common problems, but you may need to ask for a specific screen ifyou're at risk for a certain disease," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medicaldirector of the Women's Heart Program at the New York University MedicalCenter. Acquaint yourself with these tests and your body will thank you.

TEST High-sensitivityC-reactive protein

This simple test measures theamount of inflammation in yourbody by examining levels of high-sensitivityC-reactive protein (CRP)in your bloodstream. The bodynaturally produces an inflammatoryresponse to fight off infections andheal wounds. "But chronically highlevels may cause your blood vesselsto harden or fat to build up in yourarteries," says Goldberg. In fact,CRP may be an even strongerpredictor of heart disease thancholesterol: According to a studyin the New England Journal ofMedicine, women with elevatedCRP levels were more likely tosuffer from cardiovascular diseasethan those with high cholesterol.

Excess CRP has also been linkedto the development of other problems,including diabetes, high bloodpressure, and Alzheimer's disease."The test is like an early warningsystem for your entire body," saysGoldberg. If your level is high (ascore of 3 milligrams per liter ormore), your physician may recommendthat you exercise 30 minutes aday and up your intake of produce,whole grains, and lean protein. Shealso may suggest taking medications,such as cholesterol-lowering statinsor aspirin, to fight inflammation.

Who Needs It

Women withseveral risk factors for heart disease,meaning those with high cholesterol(200 or more milligrams per deciliter)and blood pressure (140/90millimeters or more of mercury)and a family history of early heartdisease. Ask for the high-sensitivityCRP test rather than the standardone, which is used for diagnosingconditions such as inflammatorybowel disease. The screen costsabout $60 and is covered by mostinsurance plans.

TEST Audiogram

Rock concerts, noisy traffic,and even just wearing extra-loudheadphones can breakdown the inner ear cells thatcontrol hearing over time. Ifyou're concerned, considerthis test, which is administeredby an audiologist.

During the exam, you'll beasked to react to differentnoises by repeating words andresponding to various pitches.If you have hearing loss, you'llbe referred to an ear, nose, andthroat specialist for an examinationto pinpoint the exactcause: Benign tumors, earinfections, or a perforated eardrum may all be culprits. Ifyour loss is permanent, you canbe fitted for hearing aids.

Who Needs It

"All adultsshould have a baseline audiogramat age 40," says TeriWilson-Bridges, director of theHearing and Speech Center inWashington, D.C. But expertsadvise having your hearing checkedearlier if you've had any troubledistinguishing sounds, are experiencingdizziness or a ringing soundin your ears, or have any risk factors,such as a family history of hearingloss or a job that requires working ina very loud environment.

TEST Glaucoma

"Half of the people who haveglaucoma don't even know it," saysLouis Cantor, M.D., director ofglaucoma service at the IndianaUniversity School of Medicine.Each year at least 5,000 people losetheir sight to this disease, whichoccurs when the fluid pressure inthe eye rises and damages theoptic nerve. "By the time someonenotices that something is wrongwith her vision, nearly 80 to 90percent of the optic nerve couldhave already been damaged."

Safeguard your sight with a yearlyglaucoma check. It includes twotests often given at annual eye exams:tonometry and ophthalmoscopy.During a tonometry, your doctormeasures the inner pressure of theeye with a puff of air or a probe.Ophthalmoscopy is used to examinethe inside of the eye. The doctorwill use a lighted instrument toexamine the optic nerve.

Who Needs It

Although glaucomais often considered a disease thataffects only the elderly, about 25percent of sufferers are under theage of 50. According to theGlaucoma Research Foundation,adults should have their firstglaucoma screenings at ages 35 and40, but African-American andHispanic women-or anyone witha family history of the disease-should be tested every year afterthe age of 35 because they areat a higher risk.

Though there's no cure,the good news is that glaucomais very treatable, saysCantor. "Once the conditionis diagnosed, we can prescribeeye drops that will prevent thedamage from getting worse."

TEST Vitamin B12

If you never seem to haveenough energy, this simplescreen may be in order. Itmeasures the amount of vitaminB12 in the blood, whichhelps maintain healthy nervecells and red blood cells in thebody. "In addition to fatigue,low levels of this nutrient cancause numbness or tingling inthe arms and legs, weakness,loss of balance, and anemia,"says Lloyd Van Winkle, M.D.,a clinical associate professorat the University of Texas HealthScience Center in San Antonio.

Over the long run, a vitamin B12deficiency can raise your risk fordepression and dementia. If you'rediagnosed with the condition, yourdoctor can prescribe high-dosesupplements in pill, shot, or nasalspray form. She may also test youfor pernicious anemia, a disease inwhich the body is unable to absorbvitamin B12 properly.

Who Needs It

Consider this test ifyou're a vegetarian, since the onlydietary sources of vitamin B12 comefrom animals. One German studyfound that 26 percent of vegetariansand 52 percent of vegans had low B12levels. You should also ask your doctorabout the test, which costs $5 to$30 and is covered by insuranceplans, if you have any of the symptomsmentioned above.

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