To quote, Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Medical tests and screenings are an integral part of maintaining overall wellness—at any age, but even more so as we get older.
Staying on top of annual check-ups improves the chances of remaining in optimal health. And you can do your part by making sure to schedule and receive these recommended medical tests by age 50.
What should I expect from a 50-year-old health checkup?
A physical exam at any age will typically include a number of medical tests, like bloodwork, an assessment of your current health, and a discussion about treatment plans and medications. Establishing good communication with your doctor is important when it comes to your health.
Throughout this appointment, you should feel comfortable enough to discuss the subtle changes you notice in your aging journey. It is also a great time to approach more serious concerns, such as any knowledge of a family history of cancer or degenerative disease.
Once you turn 50, you will encounter additional tests and health screenings, as there are more concerns as you age.
Common health concerns for women over 50:
- Cancer risk
- Memory loss/brain fog
- Joint issues
- Vascular health
Common health concerns for men over 50:
- Loss of libido
- Joint issues
- Brain fog/memory loss
- Loss of muscle tone and function
- Cancer risk
- Stroke or cardiac risk factors
What are the recommended medical tests by age 50?
The screening tests your doctor recommends vary by age, gender, and your specific family history. However, the most common screenings include:
1. Blood pressure check
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans suffers from high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and about 1 in 5 of those affected are unaware that they have a problem. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, puts you at a drastically higher risk for a stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and chronic heart failure—which is why it’s important to regularly get tested. The good news is blood pressure is a manageable condition if your results aren’t as you’d hope.
Your doctor will order blood tests for things like blood sugar levels and a complete cholesterol profile.
When checking your cholesterol profile, the doctor looks at two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. High LDL cholesterol levels (often called “bad” cholesterol) impede the flow of blood through the arteries in your body, which can eventually lead to chest pain, stroke, or heart attack if not properly addressed.
High levels of this type of cholesterol usually result from an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, subsequent weight gain, high blood glucose, and high blood pressure—but not always. In some cases, genetics can play a large role, meaning anyone could be at risk regardless of lifestyle choices.
For your blood glucose levels, the doctor is checking for undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. There are currently over 29 million adults in America with type II diabetes, and the CDC says that 1 in 4 people are undiagnosed. Feeling fatigue, weight gain, increased hunger, and frequent urination may present as the initial symptoms. If detected early, diabetes can be successfully treated with simple modifications to your diet and lifestyle.
3. Colorectal cancer screening
Colon cancer is more prevalent in those who are overweight, eat low fiber diets, and those with a family history. However, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends everyone between the ages of 50 and 75 receive screenings. A colonoscopy will likely be scheduled outside your regular exam as you will be given sedation and it requires specialized equipment.
Around age 50, there are additional immunization recommendations from the CDC. They include:
- Flu shot
- Tetanus vaccine or booster
- Pneumococcal vaccine
- Shingles vaccine
5. Skin and mole check
While skin checks are important at any age, the cases of skin cancer (melanoma) increase after the age of 50. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend this exam if you are high risk—if you’ve had skin cancer before, have a close relative who has, or if your skin is very fair. For a skin check, you can expect your primary care provider or dermatologist to look at the freckles and moles all over your body, including on your scalp and in between toes, to find any abnormalities.
6. Joint care assessment
Did you know the average knee replacement surgery is performed between the ages of 45-65? It is not uncommon to begin experiencing subtle aches and pains as you age. Your doctor can help guide you with supplementation and arthritis care solutions that are individualized for your level of activity and health.
7. Vision exam
An eye exam is a great idea to schedule when you turn 50 as well. Fatigue, poor diet, and complex issues like diabetes can impact vision as you age. Keeping with routine eye care and getting ahead of any vision changes can make turning 50 a seamless experience.
What tests are recommended for women 50 and older?
In addition to the routine screenings, women should receive the following exams to detect conditions that primarily affect females.
Cervical cancer screening: Pelvic exam and Pap smear
Although you are likely done having children at 50, pelvic exams are still necessary. Having a regular pelvic exam by a gynecologist is important due to the risks of cervical or uterine cancer. A full exam at a gynecologist’s office includes a HPV test and obtaining a Pap smear. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but at this age it’s only required once every three years—unless you’ve recently become involved with a new partner—and both conditions are most treatable when caught early.
Breast cancer screening: Mammogram
Early detection is key for treating breast cancer. Stage 1 breast cancer has a survival rate of almost 100%. Cases that are diagnosed in a more advanced stage due can result in a poor prognosis. In addition to yearly breast exams and regular self-exams, the USPSTF recommends that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 50.
RELATED: Cancer screening for women
Women age 50 and older who have broken a bone at some point should undergo a bone density test, also known as a DEXA scan. This checks to make sure your bones are strong, so your physician can prescribe appropriate treatment if they are prone to fracture.
Full hormone profile
Hormones help regulate many functions such as temperature, metabolism, appetite, and sexual libido. Unfortunately, aging is often a time when women experience many hormonal changes requiring intervention. Women in perimenopause or menopause may experience sudden or drastic hormone fluctuations.
These fluctuations can wreak havoc on women’s health. A full hormone profile will give insight as to varying hormone and thyroid levels and how to optimize them with hormone treatment or medication.
What tests are recommended for men 50 and older?
In addition to the regular screenings, men should have a PSA test and testicular exam to screen for prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer screening
Studies reveal that early treatment for prostate cancer results in a five-year survival rate of nearly 100%—which is why regular screening is important. The National Institute of Health recommends regular screening starting at age 50, or even younger if you are African American or have a close relative with prostate cancer. For the exam, you can expect your physician to complete a digital rectal exam and testicular exam and to run a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. This looks for unusual levels of a protein produced by prostate cells.
RELATED: Cancer screening for men
Depending on your specific health history, your healthcare provider may want to run additional tests during your over 50 health check. For example, if you are a current or former smoker, you may be screened for lung cancer. In other words, these are just guidelines. Rely on the advice of your primary care provider to determine what you need to maintain your health as you get older.