These Tests Can Save Your Life

The key health screenings you need to stay in top shape throughout the years.

Chris Fanning
Youre busy. So busy that you might not even make it to the doctor when youre sick, let alone for routine physicals, right? Well, heres the good news: While you do need some basic checkups, theyre fewer in number than you might think—just a few per decade. "With these screenings, youll catch things early, before you have symptoms and when theyre most easily treated," says Christine Laine, MD, editor of Annals of Internal Medicine. Beyond an annual gynecological exam (a must for every woman), these are the bare minimum—but most critical—checks youll need for the next, oh, 10 to 50 years!

Your 20s
Complete physical
Go in for your first at age 21, then every five years until age 40, when you should start getting one annually, according to Marianne J. Legato, MD, professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Legato recommends getting checks of your blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid function, liver and kidney function, and vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels. Thats because many serious health threats, such as high cholesterol, are silent killers with few to no symptoms to sound a warning. "I dont know how many times Ive seen a trace of protein in the urine of a 25-year-old, which could mean loss of kidney function later," Dr. Legato says.

Pap test
The Pap can spot the earliest signs of cervical cancer, when the chance of curing this disease is very high. Its especially vital to be tested when youre in your 20s because youre more likely to have multiple sex partners and be exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can trigger dangerous cell changes. Get it at your yearly gyno exam, starting at age 21 (if you havent been tested before then). At age 30, if youve had three consecutive normal results, you may only need a Pap every three years until age 65.

Tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
There are some 19 million new STD infections each year, almost half of them among 15- to 24-year-olds. "Often there are no symptoms," says Beth Jordan, MD, medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. "If left untreated, some infections can lead to infertility and other complications." Get tested annually for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea when you become sexually active (and when youre starting a new relationship) until age 24, or until youre no longer "high risk" (meaning you have multiple sexual partners ora partner who has multiple partners, or you have unprotected sex). Ask your doctor whether you should be tested for the herpes simplex virus.

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Aviva Patz
Last Updated: February 10, 2011

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