By Maryse IsmaSpecial to CSMS MagazineMany of the most serious medical conditions cause detectable changes in the body long before symptoms appear. Treating health problems at this stage could potentially save thousands of lives every year. The fact that doctors rarely look for diseases unless patients have symptoms, it is of utmost importance to pay attention to early signs. For example, an early-stage lung malignancy too small to be seen on chest X-ray usually causes no symptoms but can be detected by a sophisticated imaging test known as a low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scan. However, few doctors order the test unless patients are coughing up blood, have shortness of breath or other symptoms that indicate an advanced—and far less treatable—stage of lung cancer.
Never be afraid to ask for a test
Knowing the fact that it is impractical to test every person for possible disease, it is wise to be vigilant. Listen to your body and educate yourself about risk factors for specific diseases. Few insurance companies will pay for medical tests in the absence of specific symptoms. But if you have a strong family history of the disease in question, ask your doctor if that justifies testing before symptoms appear. For example, most insurance companies will not pay for a colonoscopy in people under the age of 50 but will pay if the test is recommended due to a strong family history of colon cancer. There are some serious conditions and tests to discuss with your doctor. Aneurysm is, for instance, something to pay attention to. For various reasons, a bulge can develop in the descending aorta, the main blood to the legs and organs in the abdomen. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can occur in either men or women but is most common among men ages 50 to 80. Family history (a first-degree relative—parent, sibling or child—who had an aneurysm) increases risk by 12% to 19%. If the aneurysm ruptures, it causes massive internal bleeding and death in more than 80% of cases. When detected early and treated with surgery, more 95% of patients are cured.
An abdominal ultrasound can accurately detect an AAA. During the 10-minute procedure, a technician applies gel to the patient’s abdominal ultrasound measures and records the diameter of the aorta. It can detect a dangerous AAA more than 805 of the time if one is present. Anyone with a family history of AAA (ideally, when you are 10 years younger than the age at which your family member was diagnosed)…smokers or former smokers, especially men, with a “pack history” of more than 20 years (one pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, a half pack a day for 40 years, etc.)…and/or anyone with chronic uncontrolled hypertension. And how much does it cost? It is only $ 150 in most places. However, be care extra careful. Doctors often rely on abdominal palpation and auscultation (listening to arterial sounds through a stethoscope) to detect AAA. These tests are not as reliable as abdominal ultrasound.Also seeCan Physicians Protect You From Superbugs?