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Monday, 27 June 2011

Medical checks and staying healthy

With age, certain health conditions become more common. Routine medical testing is a good way to spot any potential problems and give yourself the best chance to live and age healthily.

What is medical testing?

You've probably had a blood or urine test at some point. Doctors use medical tests like these to learn more about your health. The results can reassure you that all's well or identify problems that require treatment.

Checklist of vital health tests

As you get older, it's advisable to consider having regular tests for:

  • cholesterol levels
  • blood pressure
  • susceptibility to diabetes
  • eyesight
  • hearing

Where you can have them done

You'd usually be tested at your doctor's surgery. From there, your doctor might refer you to a specialist. Sometimes, you can do home testing.

Testing for cholesterol

You're most at risk of high cholesterol if you're a man over 45 or a woman over 55.

High cholesterol contributes to heart disease, especially if you have high blood pressure, smoke, eat a high fat diet or are physically inactive.

The test for high levels of cholesterol is a simple blood test, drawn from a vein in your arm or finger.

Your cholesterol levels change with time. So it's useful to have at least two different tests, several weeks or months apart, before beginning any kind of treatment.

Testing your blood pressure

Your blood pressure tends to rise with age. If you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, you are more at risk of a stroke, heart disease or kidney failure.

Blood pressure needs to be checked regularly. It also has to be re-checked at different times to get an accurate reading.

Testing for diabetes

Up to one million people may have diabetes without knowing it, and many don't find out until their 50s. It is a serious health condition that's much more common with age.

Testing involves taking a sample of your urine to see if it contains glucose. You may have to have a blood test to confirm any diagnosis.

Having diabetes puts you at greater risk of strokes, heart disease, nerve, eye and kidney problems, yet in most cases diabetes can be avoided. Testing for it is a first step.

Diabetes testing is advisable once you're over 40, especially if you're overweight, Asian or have a family history of the disease.

Eyesight tests

You can have good sight into your 80s and 90s if you look after your eyes. You are entitled to a free NHS sight test if you are over 60.

If you're over 50, you can have a free sight test if you:

  • need complex lenses
  • are registered blind or partially sighted
  • have diabetes
  • have or are at risk of glaucoma

An eye test is not just a test for glasses. It's important for your general health and to spot diseases of the eye that are more common as you age. For instance, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

Detecting hearing loss

Everyone loses some hearing ability with age. Age-related hearing loss, or presbyacusis, affects more than half of all people over 60. It's the second most common cause of disability as you age.

If you are worried about hearing loss, your doctor can examine your ears and do some simple tests, like asking what sounds you can hear. You'll also need to explain why you think your hearing is not as good as it used to be.

If your doctor thinks you might have hearing loss, you may be referred to an audiology clinic or Ear, Nose and Throat department.

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