h4In recent years, however, much has been written about annual medical checkups – a long list of tests one must undergo every year, especially after turning 40. Considering the cost and time involved in conducting these tests, a question that arises is – Are these tests actually beneficial? And are they necessary?

The fact of the matter is that there is no one-package-suits-all solution. Pre-determined exhaustive checkups are neither necessary nor beneficial. Furthermore, such checkups are not cost effective and, in some cases, cause unnecessary additional testing and anxiety. What is critical is the time spent with one’s physician – to better determine their individual risk for certain diseases, something that may require testing in the present, and could pay off in health care savings down the road.

Here is what you need to keep in mind before you decide on what annual checkups could mean to you:

1. Analyzing the need:

The tests you need depend on your age, health, gender, and your risk factors. Risk factors might include family history, such as having a close relative with cancer, and lifestyle issues, such as smoking. Cholesterol screening, for example, is recommended for people who have a family history of early coronary artery disease. If you are at risk for a disease, you and your doctor together will decide whether you should be tested for it.

A good examination should include a detailed history, a review of systems, a social history, past medical history and family history, a complete physical examination, and then age-appropriate screening and blood work.

2. Quality over Quantity:

It is difficult to say what tests are routine since an examination by the physician can reveal different health issues for different people. However, there are some tests that are beneficial for all and these are explained below:

Routine blood tests include:

– Complete blood count (CBC): screens for infections, anemias, and other hematological abnormalities
– Fasting Blood Sugar/Glucose: screens for diabetes and predisposition to diabetes
– Lipid profile: provides information on the status of your cardiovascular system and screens for diabetes, and coronary artery disease
– Urine analysis: a simple test that tells you a lot – urine infections, diabetes and other disorders
– BMI – Body Mass Index – can tell you if you are at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems among other conditions

Special tests include:

– Prostrate specific antigen (PSA), only for men: screens for prostrate cancer. Annual PSA testing is recommended after age 50. Men who are at high risk should begin at age 40-45
– Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): this test is the best for assessing thyroid function. Hyper or hypo thyroidism has multiple effects and need to be monitored
– Vitamin B12 and D3: especially for vegetarians since the diet does not provide enough natural sources for these vitamins. Low levels have multiple effects and need to be monitored

X-rays, mammograms, electrocardiograms (ECGs) and other such procedures should only be undertaken under the advice of your physician.

3. Choosing the right pathology laboratory:

With so many pathology laboratories coming up in cities, the choice is overwhelming. Look for one with a good reputation, run by a qualified MD pathologist, using latest technology and most importantly, one with high levels of quality control. Blood collection should always be done with sterile disposable needles and syringes. Good laboratories always retest abnormal values and reports are always signed by a registered pathologist.