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Proactive Health Measures for the Middle Age Years

I'm not getting any younger and am grateful to have a few friends that work as doctors and nurses in the medical field. During our discussions and chats, the topics sometimes turn to our health. As good friends do, we share our individual and family health journeys, including discussing ailments, treatments and life situations.

Apart from fostering empathy and connection, this interaction has led to valuable recommendations on taking a proactive approach to our health as we grow older. These suggestions include:

  • Emphasizing the significance of regular check-ups and interpreting blood test results.

  • The importance of proactively arranging preventive medical screenings to detect any potential issues at an early stage, allowing for ample time to pursue treatment.

Topics related to health have always been of interest to me. I'm an active participant in these conversations with my friends and am also active doing my own research on these topics, including following a few people I trust online and through podcasts.

This post focuses on providing practical advice on health matters, such as advanced testing recommendations, the significance of interpreting your blood test results, and tips for effective communication with your healthcare providers to maximize the benefits during the period when you surpass your medical deductible.

Let's start with your annual physical. This is important to do and the most important part of this is your annual blood panel. Do you know what all those tests mean on that blood panel? Let's take a look.

Reading your annual blood panel

  • Getting a thorough blood panel every year is crucial. If you don't have insurance, it would be worth paying out of pocket for a blood panel at a place like Quest or conducting it at home and analyzing the results using this guide. You can use these results to determine if you need to dig deeper with your doctor or consider some lifestyle changes.

  • All of the variables assessed are for something different, but I want to focus on the ones related to blood sugar due to the prevalence of diabetes in our society and the kidneys and liver since these organs may not function optimally as we age.

    • Blood Glucose is the most dependable indicator for monitoring your vulnerability to Type 2 Diabetes, a common and preventable ailment in our community. Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c or A1C) is another blood test that evaluates your average blood sugar levels over the past 2 to 3 months, serving as a useful resource for assessing your risk of diabetes.

    • Liver Function Tests - Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT), Aspartate Transaminase (AST), Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), and Bilirubin are crucial indicators to monitor. It is essential to consult a doctor if these levels are elevated, as this could signal an underlying health issue or the need for lifestyle changes. I've seen instances of people skipping their blood panel, even for 1 year, and then finding out they had a liver problem that could have been caught but had already progressed too far past any point of meaningful recovery.

    • Tests for Kidney Function - Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine, and Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) are the essential tests to monitor the health of your kidneys.

Proactive Medical Procedures

  • Colonoscopy

    • A colonoscopy is a 30-minute procedure during which your healthcare provider examines the entire inside of your colon (large intestine). This examination is carried out using a lengthy, flexible tube known as a colonoscope, equipped with a light and a small camera at one end. The colonoscope is inserted through your rectum and guided into your colon. I have undergone this procedure twice, and I can attest that it is not as unpleasant as one might think. It is the most effective method for gaining insight into the internal condition of your colon. Undergoing a colonoscopy is crucial for early detection and prevention of any colon-related issues. Colon problems are often challenging to identify, and symptoms of colon-related diseases usually do not manifest until an underlying condition has progressed significantly. Regrettably, many individuals postpone or overlook this essential examination.

  • Endoscopy

    • An upper endoscopy, or esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), is conducted for various purposes, mainly to identify and occasionally address issues impacting the upper digestive tract. Common reasons for a doctor to suggest an upper endoscopy include conditions like Heartburn and Acid Reflux (GERD), dysphagia (trouble swallowing), and unexplained abdominal pain or frequent nausea. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, an upper endoscopy is the ideal test to accurately assess the situation.

  • Calcium Chest Exam

    • A calcium chest examination, also known as a coronary calcium scan or a coronary artery calcium (CAC) test, is a specialized X-ray procedure that identifies calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, which can contribute to plaque accumulation and heart disease. This scan is quick, easy and extremely valuable for assessing the risk of heart disease. While not usually covered by insurance, the test is affordable at a cost of $50-75 and can reveal a treatable problem that may otherwise have serious consequences, including fatality.

  • Skin exam

    • Skin cancer is quite prevalent, especially as we get older. Do you play golf frequently or spend a lot of time at the beach? Do you spend a lot of time outdoors? Are you diligent about using sunscreen (I know I'm not)? An annual skin examination is a routine check-up conducted by a dermatologist or another healthcare provider to assess your skin for any irregularities, alterations, or indications of skin cancer. This precautionary step aids in the timely identification and management of skin issues, such as melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. Typically, this is covered by your insurance.

Knowing your Medical History

  • Don't hesitate to inquire within your family about any history of heart attacks, aneurysms, strokes, or deaths related to liver or kidney disease. It may not be a common topic of discussion, but people are usually willing to share information when asked. Take the opportunity to ask your parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents about your families health history while you still have the chance. Despite your efforts to prioritize your health, genetics can significantly influence predisposition to certain health risks, such as addiction, heart disease, or gastrointestinal problems.

  • If you know your parents or grandparents had a specific ailment, it is possible that you could be impacted by the same ailment making this information incredibly useful to help you monitor your own health and hopefully make good decisions.

Making the Most of your High Deductible Years

  • Having tests done that fall within the deductible in the same year can be a wise financial decision. If you are undergoing a Colonoscopy or need additional testing following a mammogram, consider your circumstances carefully. If you are close to reaching your deductible, it might be a good opportunity to address other health issues that have been bothering you. For instance, if you suffer from acid reflux, an Endoscopy could provide valuable insights. Perhaps you have unresolved back or joint pain, or other lingering health concerns that you have not fully explored. This could be the right time to address them. Rather than wait for your doctor to suggest further tests, take the initiative to bring it up yourself and don't hesitate to advocate for your health. Remember, you are the one ultimately responsible for your well-being, and it's essential to be proactive in seeking thorough medical evaluations before issues escalate into emergencies.

A few parting thoughts.

  • Take charge of your health. Don't assume that your doctor is always prepared for your annual exam or reviewing your history diligently, especially if they haven't seen you in a year. With a large number of patients (customers) to attend to, it's important to take ownership of your own health and do your own research. Additionally, it's common for doctors to change practices frequently nowadays. I've had three different doctors in the past three years due to this trend, making long-term continuity with one doctor challenging. Therefore, it's crucial to advocate for your own health needs.

  • Be honest with your doctor, even if it's uncomfortable to confess your habits and lifestyle. They can't really help you or ask the right questions or suggest the right follow up measures if you don't tell them what's going on.

  • Prepare ahead of time and ask questions that you may have. Go into your MyChart and review your blood panel and exam results from the last 2 years. Write down anything you want to ask the doctor and bring your "cheat sheet" with you so you don't forget to ask them anything.

  • Don't just take there word for it if you have lingering questions and aren't satisfied with the answer. In my experience, many healthcare providers tell you what they think you need to know and no more. I'd like to decide what I need to know about my body.

  • Keep in mind that the primary focus of the health care system is on treating illnesses and conditions rather than preventing them. Nonetheless, acknowledging this fact empowers you to take proactive steps and prioritize preventive health measures in collaboration with your doctor.

  • Doctors are terrific but don't forget that medicine is a business and your a customer. It may be uncomfortable to push your doctor on a subject, but if you view it from that perspective, you should feel comfortable to ask questions about things that don't make sense or are unclear.



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