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Spring Health Check-Up

Many use spring as a time to deep clean the home, getting rid of clutter and scrubbing places that are otherwise visible and frequently overlooked.

While planning your spring clean­ing agenda this season, make a plan with your doctor for any essential screenings you may have been neglecting.

Dr. Tom Benzoni, emergency phys­ician and assistant professor at Des Moines University (DMU), says one of the best things you can do is speak with your doctor about your family and medical history to design a personal screening schedule.

“I recommend making an electronic health record of your own medical history,” says Benzoni. “Bring that information with you to the doctor’s appointment, and prepare any questions you may have ahead of time.”

Benzoni says because of the large population risk, diabetes and high blood pressure are two preventive screenings that all adults should get regularly. These particular conditions can be present for a long period of time before showing symptoms, so preventive intervention techniques are best for controlling the condition before it gets out of hand.

While some screenings are routine, others are recommended based on family medical history. Prostate screening is no longer recommended unless a member of your family has had prostate cancer. A diagnostic test should be requested if you’re showing symptoms, such as trouble uri­nating.

“Some tests have gotten too good, so it starts picking a lot of false positives,” says Benzoni. "The pro­state screening test is one example of that, so it’s now only recommended for those in the high risk category.”

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It's the fourth most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Colonoscopy screenings should begin at the age of 50, assuming there are no added risks, and occur once every 10 years until age 70. Therefore, the average adult should have three colonoscopies in their lifetime.

Cholesterol is another area where family history is the biggest indicator. If cholesterol is prevalent in your family tree, you should be monitoring your blood pressure and get screened for diabetes on a regular basis.

For women, it is important to get routine pap screenings, specifically for cervical cancer prevention. Pre­­vention in this area is hugely important to catch viral infections such as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Women are recommended to start getting mammograms for breast cancer prevention around the age of 40.

If you’re concerned about your potential risk for a disease because of your family medical history, ask your doctor about what else you can do on a daily basis to decrease these risks.

“When setting up your screening schedule, talk to your doctor about diet and exercise,” says Benzoni. “In some cases, exercise can do many of the same things as medication. It can determine your entire state of health.”

Diet and exercise is especially key when it comes to preventing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association states that detecting risk factors such as high blood pressure, high total cholesterol and high blood glucose during regular doctor visits is important. It allows you and your doctor to talk about lifestyle changes that can make an impact on your health.

While all these screenings and preventive measures may seem overwhelming, Benzoni explains it doesn't have to be a huge hassle or time commitment.

“At your doctor’s appointment, the doctor should be able to upload your records, push a button and receive recommendations almost immediately to compare with your family medical history,” says Dr. Benzoni.

Be prepared by bringing in your medical history information and questions to ask the doctor. Dr. Benzoni also says smartphones can sometimes help in the doctor’s office.

“If you’re worried about a lesion or mole on your skin, take a picture of it on your cell phone, and in a couple months, take another picture of it,” says Benzoni. “The picture on your phone offers a date and time stamp, and offers a visual to doctors that will help them determine if there is any troubling progression.”

For more screening recom­mend­ations, you can visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website at www.agrq.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.