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Javier, a 54-year old small business owner avoids going to the doctor. He tells his wife he is too busy, but secretly he is afraid of what he might find out if he gets the health screening tests recommended for people his age. Why is Javier afraid to get a screening? What are health screening tests and what do they reveal?

What is a Health Screening?

A health screening is an assessment, also called a medical screening or test, performed by a care provider to help identify an illness, condition, or disease before signs or symptoms appear. While it may seem counterintuitive to perform a medical screening exam when people do not have any symptoms, these play a pivotal role in the prevention - early detection of illnesses, conditions, or diseases. Early detection saves lives by identifying conditions when they are most treatable.

Where and When are Health Screenings Performed?

Some health screening tests, such as a blood pressure reading, can be performed in a physician’s office. The reading helps detect high blood pressure, which is known as the silent killer because its symptoms are not always obvious. High blood pressure can often be managed with lifestyle changes and sometimes medicine is also needed.

Mammograms to detect breast cancer and colonoscopies to detect colorectal cancer are common screenings that require specialized equipment and are performed by specialists. Unlike blood pressure readings, which are taken during a routine office visit, the need for mammograms and colonoscopies is based on people’s ages and family health histories.

National guidelines drive the frequency of screenings. Some are annual health screenings, while others may be performed every 5 to 10 years for people without symptoms or family histories of the condition.

Some screening tests are done through blood work, which can be drawn in care providers’ offices or in laboratory offices. The numbers revealed in the resulting health screening reports can indicate whether people have or are trending toward having a condition. High cholesterol can be identified by numbers outside the healthy range for LDL (also known as bad cholesterol), HDL (also known as good cholesterol), triglycerides, and total cholesterol. Elevated fasting blood glucose readings can indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes. The sooner these conditions can be identified, the sooner they can be treated, managed, or potentially reversed.

Encouraging People to Receive Health Screenings

Javier isn’t alone in being nervous about health screenings and their results. Reassuring people and making it easier to get screenings can help alleviate fears.

Many national health associations promote the benefits of health screenings, including the fact that early detection increases the likelihood of better health outcomes. One-on-one outreach by community health workers, who promote health and wellness throughout their communities, can help people understand the benefits of health screening tests and help them work through their fears.

Community organizations and employers can support people receiving health screenings by partnering with health insurers and care providers to hold community health fairs where screenings can be performed. Even some libraries, barber shops, sports arenas, and schools are places that provide space and opportunities for people to receive health screening tests.

Blood pressure readings and rapid blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes can be done in any private setting. Home test kits to collect samples for colorectal cancer screenings may be more readily accepted than having a colonoscopy. Having a mobile screening unit that can provide mammograms, or other medical screening tests at health fairs are other ways to make screenings easier and more accessible.

Helping people understand that knowing more about their health is better than not, which is an important step forward in encouraging them to receive their recommended health screenings. The earlier illnesses, conditions, and diseases can be detected, the sooner they can be treated or maybe even reversed, leading to even better health outcomes.

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