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Doctors' Notes

The Top 5 Tests You Need This Year

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 

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Question:  I’m ready to make my health a priority and start 2014 off on the right track.  I don’t currently have any health problems, but I want to make sure to keep it that way.  What should I be focused on this year?     

The New Year for many means a renewed commitment to faith, family, and personal goals.  I applaud you, because making sure your health is in order should certainly top that list of priorities.  Even though you don’t have any identified health problems, focusing on preventive health and doing all you can to stay healthy is something that we all should be sure to do this year.  The Affordable Care Act has now made it easier for many people who never had access to healthcare to take a proactive approach to their health this year.  So we’ve listed the top five tests that every adult should be asking their doctor about having this year.  Make 2014 your healthiest year yet!

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

The Complete Blood Count (CBC):  This important test gives an assessment of the health of the red blood cells, white blood cells, as well as the platelets and is useful in screening for anemia, infection, inflammation, and other blood disorders.  This is one test you definitely need to have each year to detect hidden disease processes early on.

Dr. Karla says:

In women who are menstruating, this test is important as there may be an undiagnosed anemia due to monthly blood loss.  This is a big reason many feel chronically fatigued.

Dr. Rob says:

For men, and also women who are postmenopausal, the most common cause for a low blood count is undetected blood loss from the GI tract, and can often times be the first sign of colon cancer or other gastrointestinal problems. 

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Thyroid Screen (TSH):  This screening test is a measure of the health of the thyroid gland.  The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating the metabolism in the body.  If the thyroid gland isn’t functioning properly, it can lead to many symptoms including weight changes, mood changes, neck fullness, fatigue, anxiety, elevated cholesterol, heart rate disturbances, and skin and hair changes.  Recent estimates indicate that tens of millions of people have a thyroid disorder in this country and many are undiagnosed.  Make sure you have your thyroid checked each year.

Dr. Karla says:

For women, a sign of thyroid dysfunction can sometimes be menstrual irregularities.  Don’t ignore these subtle changes, as it may signal a more complex issue.

Dr. Rob says:

Men with thyroid disorders may also experience sexual dysfunction ranging from decreased libido (low sex drive), erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and delayed ejaculation.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Body Mass Index (BMI):  It is not enough to leave your doctor’s office knowing your height and weight, it is necessary to know your BMI as it can have important health implications.  The BMI is a test assessing your body fat as it relates to your height and your weight, and it has been used to screen for the risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases.  BMI levels in the range of 18 to 25 are considered normal weight, 25 to 30 are considered overweight, and those levels over 30 are in the obese range.  

Dr. Karla says:

Obesity has been linked to many chronic illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea, elevated cholesterol, liver disease, and infertility.

Dr. Rob says:

In men, or others that are particularly muscular, the BMI can sometimes be falsely elevated due to increased muscle mass.  It’s important to take this into consideration when assessing BMI and the risk of chronic disease.  

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Hemoglobin A1C:  Traditionally used as a test in known diabetics to assess control of their disease, this test is now recommended to be used as a screening test to detect diabetes.  This test is a measure of blood sugars over the last few months, and those with an A1C greater than 6% need further evaluation and consultation. 

Dr. Karla says:

For women, recurrent vaginal yeast infections can sometimes be a sign of uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes.  Requesting a hemoglobin A1C test should definitely be considered if there are signs and symptoms of elevated blood sugars.

Dr. Rob says:

There are also studies now looking at the use of hemoglobin A1C in predicting heart disease risk in those without diabetes.  This is a very important test to ask your doctor about.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Complete Metabolic Panel (CMP): This test includes a screening of the common electrolytes essential for the normal functioning of the body.  Sodium, potassium, calcium, and glucose are all included in this test and abnormalities in the levels of these electrolytes can reveal underlying medical problems. 

Kidney and liver function tests are also included in this test.  Given the high prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and lupus in our community, this becomes a useful test in screening for kidney disease before any symptoms are present.

 

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecallmagazine.com, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!