As you age, you may benefit by visiting your healthcare provider more frequently to obtain preventive care services and detect problems early, when treatment is more likely to be effective. Above 50 years of age, more tests are generally recommended than for younger adults. At 65 years old, or earlier depending on your health, more frequent health care may be especially appropriate. In your 80s and 90s, some screening tests become less valuable in protecting your health, but some continue to be worth it.
The screening tests you need can be dealt with in a checkup that you schedule or as part of other healthcare visits. Having annual visits is especially helpful for individuals with a specific disease or increased risk for certain health problems. Scheduling a visit for “well care” gives you more time to discuss your concerns and focus on preventing health problems. At the end of a healthcare visit, ask your healthcare provider when you next need a preventive service and if a separate “health maintenance” visit would be best for any of these.
Screening tests are laboratory tests that are used to identify individuals with or at increased risk for a particular condition or disease before they may even be experiencing symptoms or realize they may be at risk. The information derived from these tests can be used to counsel patients about their risks or likelihood of developing the condition or disease. Screening tests also help to detect disease in its earliest and most treatable stages. Therefore, screening tests are most valuable when they are used to screen for diseases that are serious and treatable, so that there is a benefit to detecting the disease before symptoms begin. They should be sensitive – that is, able to correctly identify those individuals who have a given disease. A positive screening test often requires further testing with a more specific test, which can correctly exclude those individuals who do not have the given disease, in order to confirm a diagnosis. Many routine tests performed at regular health exams fall into the screening category, such as cholesterol testing and Pap smears for women. Newborns are screened for a variety of conditions at birth.
A diagnostic test may be used for screening purposes, although a diagnostic test is generally used to confirm a diagnosis in an individual who usually has signs, symptoms, or other evidence of a particular disease.