Vital Health Checks After Age Fifty

Beginning in your fifties, the time comes for vigilance with certain diseases and conditions you never thought of when you were young. Here are the top screenings you need beginning at age fifty and how often you need them.

Weight gain

With age comes a gradual change in metabolism and the mere sight of rich foods seems to add pounds. After fifty, carrying excess baggage raises your chances of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. Eat right, exercise and work closely with your primary care physician to maintain a healthy weight.

Blood pressure

Weight gain can contribute to high blood pressure, but even if your weight is reasonable, dietary choices and heredity can push your numbers up. Hypertension can damage kidneys and cause life threatening blood clots. The insidious thing: it’s silent. You don’t feel symptoms until something goes very wrong. Begin having your blood pressure checked, eat right and exercise. If you still have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medications.

Cholesterol

Another stealthy thief of good health is high cholesterol. You should have your cholesterol levels checked at least every five years and for those at risk of heart disease, every year. Cholesterol has two components: high density lipoprotein or HDL and low density lipoprotein, or LDL. HDL is “good” cholesterol, protecting against heart disease, while LDL is “bad” cholesterol, raising heart disease risk. Men tend to have higher cholesterol than women–until women reach menopause, at which time a women’s cholesterol levels begin rising.

Colonoscopy

These should begin at age fifty. If the doctor finds no evidence of cancer or polyps, he will recommend returning in ten years. If a polyp is found and removed, he may recommend a five year return. Colon cancer is the number two cause of cancer death in America, so get this one done.

Blood sugar check

Diabetes is another silent health threat. Some people have diabetes and don’t know it, but it can destroy kidneys, cause blindness and even amputation of lower limbs. Have a fasting blood sugar test every three years or more, depending on your doctor’s recommendation.

Skin cancer check

All those deep tans of your youth caused sun damage to skin that begins to present in middle age. There are three main types of skin cancer, ranging in seriousness and there are precancerous lesions known as actinic keratosis that can begin appearing in middle age. You should have a dermatologist exam annually.

Eye exams

Annual eye exams take on extra importance in middle age. Although diseases of the eye can affect people of any age, the risk profile elevates after age fifty for some, such as with macular degeneration and cataracts. A test every one to three years is needed.

Women: PAP smear and mammogram

PAP smears and test for human papillomavirus should begin before age 50 and be done every three to five years. After age 65, if tests have been negative three consecutive times for PAP and two consecutive times for HPV, or for more than ten years, no more tests are needed, unless other risk factors are present such as being a smoker, or a history of HPV.

Mammograms and a breast exam by the doctor should be done annually after age fifty.

Men: Prostate exam and PSA test

Beginning at age fifty men should discuss screening for prostate cancer with their doctor. The test for prostate specific antigen, or PSA, is typically done annually. An enlarged prostate, which is not a precursor to cancer, can begin developing, resulting in urination problems.

 

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