Reaching age 50 is a milestone birthday; not only for celebrating but also for maintaining your physical health.
According to my doctors, there are medical tests recommended after age 50 that are typically covered by insurance and there are also preventative screening tests that could potentially save your life that may or may not be covered.
If I consider myself at higher risk for a medical condition, I’ll ask my healthcare provider to order preventative tests or I’ll schedule them and pay out-of-pocket.
I’ve done some research to find out which medical tests are recommended at my age (50) and then I’ll decide which ones I’ll schedule and which ones I’ll postpone. There are other tests that are not necessarily recommended that I will have done and I’ll explain my reasoning behind those as they come up.
Medical Tests Recommended After 50
If you’ve been seeing your doctor regularly, they’re probably already keeping an eye on things like your weight and blood pressure. Some other conditions your doctor might be looking for during your physical exam include:
- Cholesterol levels – Your doctor will use a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. Poor eating habits can result in elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol), which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Your medical advisor might also ask about your family history to assess risk factors for heart disease at checkups after you turn 50.
- Breast cancer – Mammograms are recommended every two years for women age 50-74 years. Although, as Dr. Axe points out in this article, mammograms do not find all breast cancers. I’ve been getting thermogram scans since my mid-forties.
- Hormone levels – Menopause is another condition doctors may watch for if you haven’t already stopped having your menstrual cycle. The FDA approved a blood test that detects certain hormones and lets you know if you’re in menopause. Your doctor might check follicle-stimulating hormone or thyroid-stimulating hormones to determine where you are in the transition towards menopause.
- Colorectal Cancer Screening and Colonoscopy – Every time I go to the gynecologist they remind me about mammogram and colonoscopy screening. A colonoscopy is used to detect polyps. Some of these polyps may be removed and sent to a lab for analysis to see whether they are cancerous, precancerous or noncancerous. The main goal of a colonoscopy is to catch colon cancer early. Stool tests and flexible sigmoidoscopy are alternatives to traditional colonoscopy you may discuss with your doctor.
- Pap Smear and Pelvic Exams are performed once every 3-5 years and a HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years. If you’ve had abnormal pap test results or are at high risk, your doctor may recommend more frequent health screenings. Early detection of cervical cancer significantly improves the chance of successful treatment.
Screening Tests I Chose to Do at 50
For several decades I’ve been studying and implementing wellness habits in hopes I can avoid some of the more common dis-ease seen in Americans of my generation.
We do LifeLine Screening each year which covers the following:
Carotid Artery Disease:
An ultrasound is performed to screen the carotid arteries (a pair of blood vessels in the neck that delivers blood to your brain) for buildup of fatty plaque. This buildup, called atherosclerosis, is one of the leading causes of stroke.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD):
An Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) test is performed using blood pressure cuffs on the arms and legs. It is important to screen for PAD because it increases the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA):
An ultrasound is performed to screen the abdominal aorta for the presence of an enlargement or aneurysm. AAA can lead to a ruptured aortic artery, which is a serious medical emergency.
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib):
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is performed by placing sensors on the arms and legs to screen for an irregular heartbeat. AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure, and other heart-related complications.
An ultrasound is performed to measure the shin bone for abnormal bone density. This can help assess the risk of osteoporosis, a disease where bones become weak and brittle. Check with your physician about risk factors for osteoporosis.
Thankfully my Lifeline results were good, with the exception that I need to lower my BMI by a few percentage points. My mom, who is 72 also had good results.
Find a screening location near you to schedule yours.
Other Tests and Conditions to Be Aware of
If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, have a high BMI, or are at increased risk of cancer due to family history, your doctor may perform wellness checkups more frequently.
According to The American Cancer Society, you should,
Talk to your doctor about what tests you need and when you should begin getting them. Everybody – no matter their family history – can help lower their risk by avoiding tobacco; staying at a healthy weight; eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and getting enough exercise.
- Brain function for memory loss or brain fog.
- Arthritis and Joint Issues – as needed.
- Urinary Tract health – particularly women who have bladder control issues.
- Type 2 Diabetes – Your doctor may want to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels to check for prediabetes (developing metabolic syndrome.) Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. (We monitor our blood sugar levels at home with a glucose monitor; my doctor performs the A1C test which measures blood sugar over the previous several months.) The American Diabetes Association recommends routine testing starting at age 45, or younger depending on risk factors.
- See a dermatologist regularly to be checked for skin cancer.
- Vision Screenings – also for cataracts and other changes in the eye.
- Hepatitis C screening – surprisingly this virus
It is also important to keep your immune system strong to avoid illnesses such as shingles or flu. The CDC does recommend certain immunizations for those over the age of 50. Ask your doctor at your next checkup if you are concerned.
For more information on medical tests or screening, visit the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).