Routine Screening Needs for People 50 and Better
Madhumathi Kosaraju, MD, is a primary care physician at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown.
Q. If you’re 50 or beyond, do you need a physical exam? What does that exam include? What other tests should you be sure to schedule?
Be sure to have an annual checkup with your primary care doctor at least once every year, especially starting at age 50.
Often we assume that we’re healthy (unless we have some symptoms) and visit the doctor only if we’re not well. This can delay diagnosis of emerging health issues, sometimes irreparably. Smart lifestyle choices, such as a healthy diet and exercise, can go a long way toward good health. An annual physical exam is an opportunity for your physician to screen for diseases and assess your risk of future medical problems — and for you to learn more about personal preventive care.
Beginning at age 50, the risk of developing many illnesses increases greatly. Some — such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension, high cholesterol and the early stages of diabetes — can go unnoticed for a long time until something catastrophic happens. Appropriate screening tests help us diagnose them early, when treatment can be most effective.
Some of the routine screening tests recommended at age 50 and beyond are:
- Blood pressure screening: Have your blood pressure checked every two years. If it is 120-139/80-89 Hg or higher, have it checked annually. If the first number (systolic) is greater than 145 or the second number (diastolic) is greater than 85, call your doctor if your blood pressure was taken by someone else.
- Your height, weight and body mass index (BMI) should be checked at each exam. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or certain other conditions, you may need to be monitored more closely.
- Cholesterol screening at each exam to measure your risk for heart disease and stroke
- Annual mammograms for women to detect breast cancer
- Prostate exam for men: Most men age 50 or older should discuss screening for prostate cancer with their health care provider. African-American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer should start at age 45.
- Colon cancer screening: People between the ages of 50 and 80 should be screened for colorectal cancer. African-Americans need to start screening at age 45. Your doctor may choose one of several screening methods. People with colon cancer risk factors, such as long-standing ulcerative colitis, personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or history of large colorectal polyps, may need a colonoscopy more often and earlier.
- Dental exam: Go to the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning.
- Eye exam: If you have vision problems, continue to have an eye exam every two years. Everyone (with or without eye problems) should have regular eye exams every two years after age 40. Once you turn 45, make sure that your eyes are checked for glaucoma.
- Immunizations: Get a flu vaccine every year after age 50. Ask your doctor if you should get a vaccine to reduce your risk of pneumonia. You should have a tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccination every 10 years. A shingles or herpes zoster vaccination may be given once after age 60.
- Osteoporosis screening for women and high-risk men to detect thinning of your bones that might increase the risk of fracture
- Screening for depression
Your doctor may decide to run additional tests depending on your family history and risk profile.
Even though 50 years old is considered the prime of life, many in this age range are part of the “sandwich generation” because life has so many demands. On one side, our growing children still need our support, and on the other, our aging parents may be more dependent on us. And we’re trying to juggle our career to reach our personal goals.
As a result, it’s very easy to keep our health on the back burner and ignore some of the warning signs until it’s too late. This is common in women, usually the family’s primary caregivers. A small investment in time and effort for prevention and early diagnosis of some ailments can take us a long way toward maintaining good health.
This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace guidance from your physician on your specific health needs. Please talk to your physician for advice in all matters related to your health.