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Saving Your Own Life: Routine Medical Screenings
Medical screening is a health strategy used in the modern world that is aimed at detecting disease in individuals prior to the development of overt symptoms. In the case of some diseases, e.g. cancer, that sometimes don’t show symptoms until the condition is so advanced that treatment is ineffective, these screenings allow detection and treatment while the condition is still manageable.
The first step is effective personal health management is regular, routine, health care. This means seeing your personal primary care physician on a regular basis and being honest with him or her about concerns and symptoms. It also means taking advantage of routine health tests and screenings as advised.
Health screenings are generally categorized as ‘universal’ and ‘targeted.’ Universal screenings are frequently done with school age children to identify vision problems, hearing problems, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and other types of physical problems. Targeted screenings are dependent on age, gender, heredity, occupation, physical condition, etc. with the most common being blood tests, bone density tests, urinalysis, chest X-rays, mammography (for breast cancer), pap tests (for cervical cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer), dermatological (skin) tests and other tests that are aimed at looking for early symptoms of diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Generally, your primary care physician will perform, or refer the patient, for routine screening procedures. In large cities specialized practices for these screenings are easy to find. However in small towns and rural areas these screening tests are not as readily available. Sometimes you may have to schedule with traveling health care services that visit towns or hospitals on a scheduled basis. Depending on where you live, and what your circumstances are, you might be able to take advantage of community ‘Health Fairs’ where health information and free or low-cost screening tests are offered.
Although these screening tests are a wonderful means of early diagnosis, or identifying early predisposition to disease and can thereby reduce mortality rates, the process of screening for disease does have a downside. One of the unfortunate disadvantages of screening exams possible misdiagnosis of conditions. Mass screenings also create the ‘overdiagnosis’ of some conditions, conditions that may be secondary to more severe conditions. They can also create a false sense of security when a misreading fails to diagnose an imminent or existing condition. So, even when you take advantage of screening tests, you should remain vigilant about your personal health and consult your primary care physician about health changes and concerns.
The first and most important resource in health care is your own vigilance. Seeing your physician, following his/her advice, taking advantage of screenings and recommended tests and asking questions are some of the best ways that you can take charge of your own health and well-being.