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Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Health Screening: Finding Health Problems Early

Health Screening: Finding Health Problems Early

Topic Overview

Why is it important to find health problems early?

Often, the earlier a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is that it can be cured or successfully managed. When you treat a disease early, you may be able to prevent or delay problems from the disease. Treating the disease early may also make the disease easier to live with.

How do you find health problems early?

Your doctor may suggest:

  • Screening tests, which find health problems before symptoms appear. Examples of screening tests include mammograms to find breast cancer and colonoscopy to find colon cancer.
  • Diagnostic tests, medical exams, and self-exams, which find a disease or other health problem early in its course.

What health problems should you be tested for?

You and your doctor can use recommendations made by expert panels of health professionals to help you decide what screening tests you need. These panels develop screening recommendations based on:

  • Age, health, and gender.
  • Risk factors. Risk factors are things that make getting a disease more likely. They may include family history, such as having a close relative with cancer, and lifestyle habits, such as smoking. Cholesterol screening, for example, is recommended for people who have a family history of early coronary artery disease.
  • Whether or not you are pregnant. A woman who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant may be screened for genetic conditions and other conditions that may affect her or her baby.

Sometimes different expert panels make different recommendations. In these situations, talk with your doctor to decide which guidelines best meet your health needs.

See which screening tests you may need:

  • Interactive Tool: Which Health Screenings Do You Need?

How do you decide when to get a screening test?

When and how often you get screening tests may depend on your age, your gender, your health status, your risk factors, and the cost of testing. Your doctor may suggest screening tests based on expert guidelines. In some cases, testing is done as part of a routine checkup.

When you are thinking about getting a screening test, talk with your doctor. Find out about the disease, what the test is like, how the test may help you or hurt you, and how much the test costs. You may also want to ask what further testing and follow-up will be needed if a screening test result shows a possible problem.

Ask your doctor about the limits of the test and treatment. For example:

  • Ask your doctor how likely it is that the test would miss a disease (false negative), show something that looks like you have a disease when you don't (false positive), or find a disease that will never cause a problem.
  • Ask your doctor about the treatment for the disease. There may be no treatment that helps with symptoms or helps you live longer. In this case, you may decide that you don't want the screening test.

Also think about what you would do if a test shows that you have the disease. For example, if you are going to be tested for osteoporosis, are you willing to take medicine or make lifestyle changes if the test shows that you have it?

Health Tools

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.
Interactive tools are designed to help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more.
Screening, Birth to 12 Months

Screening, Birth to 12 Months

Newborn screening tests

All states require newborn screening, although the tests required vary from state to state. These tests can help find serious problems that could affect your baby's long-term health. They may include:

  • Congenital heart defect test.
  • Galactosemia test.
  • Hearing tests.
  • Phenylketonuria (PKU) screen.
  • Sickle cell disease test.
  • Thyroid hormone tests (for congenital hypothyroidism).

Well-baby visits

It's important for your baby to have regularly scheduled checkups, often called well-baby visits, starting shortly after birth. During these visits, the doctor examines your baby for possible problems and asks you questions about your baby's growth and development.

At each well-baby visit, the doctor or nurse will check your baby's:

  • Vision, if he or she feels that tests are needed.
  • Length, weight, and head circumference.
  • Hip growth, to check for developmental dysplasia of the hip.

It's also recommended that your baby have developmental delay screening and a blood test for iron-deficiency anemia.

If the doctor is concerned that your child has been exposed to certain substances or diseases, tests may include:

  • Lead screening.
  • Tuberculosis screening.

For more information on important markers (milestones) of infant growth and development, see:

  • Growth and Development, Newborn.
  • Growth and Development, Ages 1 to 12 Months.
Screening, 13 Months to 12 Years

Screening, 13 Months to 12 Years

It's important for your child to continue to have regularly scheduled checkups, often called well-child visits. During these visits, your child's doctor will check your child's growth and development and examine your child for possible problems.

Checks at well-child visits include:

  • Behavioral and school concerns. Depending on the child's age, these may include temper tantrums, grades, relationship problems, and aggressive behavior that hurts others emotionally or physically (bullying).
  • Blood pressure. Your child will likely have his or her blood pressure checked every year, beginning at age 3.
  • Hearing.
  • Vision.
  • Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI).

Regular dental checkups are recommended for all children once or twice a year.

Age-specific tests

Until your child is age 24 months, the doctor will measure the circumference of your child's head.

Until your child is age 5, the doctor will check for developmental problems, including two checks for autism. When your child is ages 10 through to 12, the doctor will check for scoliosis.

Other tests

Other tests may include:

  • Cholesterol screening.
  • Hematocrit test, if your doctor is concerned about your child's red blood cell count.
  • Lead screening.
  • Tuberculosis screening.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening.

For more information on the milestones of early childhood growth and development, see:

  • Growth and Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months.
  • Growth and Development, Ages 2 to 5 Years.
  • Growth and Development, Ages 6 to 10 Years.
  • Growth and Development, Ages 11 to 14 Years.
Screening, 13 to 18 Years

Screening, 13 to 18 Years

It's important for your teen to continue to have regularly scheduled checkups. At each well-child visit, the doctor will check your teen's growth and development and examine him or her for possible problems.

Checks at well-child visits may include:

  • School and behavioral concerns, such as failing classes or dropping out of school, relationship problems with friends and family that affect home or school life, severe mood swings, lack of interest in normal activities and withdrawal from others, being physically aggressive, becoming sexually active, and using tobacco or drugs.
  • Blood pressure. Your child will likely have his or her blood pressure checked every year. After age 18, he or she can follow the adult blood pressure screening guidelines.
  • Hearing.
  • Scoliosis.
  • Vision.
  • Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI).

Dental checkups are recommended for all teens once or twice a year.

Other tests

Other tests may include:

  • Alcohol use screening.
  • Cholesterol screening.
  • Depression screening.
  • Hematocrit test, which checks the amount of red blood cells.
  • HIV screening.
  • Sexually transmitted infection screening.
  • Testicular cancer screening for boys.
  • Tuberculosis screening.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening.

For more information on the milestones of teen growth and development, see:

  • Growth and Development, Ages 11 to 14 Years.
  • Growth and Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years.
Screening, Adult Women

Screening, Adult Women

Screening in adults is intended to identify diseases that may develop as you age. To help stay as healthy as possible, get routine checkups and have screenings that you and your doctor decide on.

How often you have the following tests depends on your age, health, and things that make a specific disease more likely.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Harmful alcohol use screening.
  • Blood pressure screening.
  • Breast cancer screening.
  • Cervical cancer screening.
  • Cholesterol screening.
  • Colorectal cancer screening.
  • Dental checkup.
  • Depression screening.
  • Hearing tests.
  • Heart attack and stroke risk screening.
  • Hepatitis virus test, including hepatitis C.
  • HIV test.
  • Lung cancer screening.
  • Osteoporosis screening.
  • Sexually transmitted infection screening.
  • Skin cancer screening.
  • Thyroid disease screening.
  • Tuberculosis screening.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening.
  • Vision tests and glaucoma screening.
  • Weight.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you may be screened for genetic conditions, gestational diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, and other conditions. For more information, see the topic Pregnancy.

Your age and tests

Some tests are only done at certain ages.

  • Experts recommend that all adults ages 18 to 79 get tested for hepatitis C. footnote 1
  • Before age 65, screening for osteoporosis isn't generally recommended. If you have risk factors, talk to your doctor about when to start screening.
  • Go to www.ahrq.gov/ppip/women50.htm for a screening checklist for females age 50 or older.

Deciding about tests

It can be hard to decide whether you want to be screened for certain diseases or which type of test is best used. Combine medical information with your personal values to make a wise health decision.

  • Breast Cancer Screening: When Should I Start Having Mammograms?
  • Colorectal Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?
  • Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them?
  • HIV Testing: Should I Get Tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus?
  • Osteoporosis: Should I Have a Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) Test?
  • Pregnancy: Should I Have CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling)?
  • STI Testing: Should I Get Tested for a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
Screening, Adult Men

Screening, Adult Men

Screening in adults is intended to identify diseases that may develop as you age. To help stay as healthy as possible, get routine checkups and have screenings that you and your doctor decide on.

How often you have the following tests depends on your age, health, and things that make getting a specific disease more likely.

Tests that may be done include:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening.
  • Harmful alcohol use screening.
  • Blood pressure screening.
  • Cholesterol screening.
  • Colorectal cancer screening.
  • Dental checkup.
  • Depression screening.
  • Hearing tests.
  • Heart attack and stroke risk screening.
  • Hepatitis virus test, including hepatitis C.
  • HIV test.
  • Lung cancer screening.
  • Osteoporosis screening.
  • Prostate cancer screening.
  • Sexually transmitted infection screening.
  • Skin cancer screening.
  • Testicular cancer screening.
  • Thyroid disease screening.
  • Tuberculosis screening.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening.
  • Vision tests and glaucoma screening.
  • Weight.

Your age and tests

Some tests are only done at certain ages.

  • Experts recommend that all adults ages 18 to 79 get tested for hepatitis C. footnote 1
  • Before age 65, screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm isn't usually recommended. After age 65, talk to your doctor about your risk if you have ever smoked cigarettes.
  • Before age 65, screening for osteoporosis isn't generally recommended. If you have risk factors, talk to your doctor about when to start screening.
  • Go to www.ahrq.gov/ppip/men50.htm for a screening checklist for males age 50 and older.

Deciding about tests

It can be hard to decide whether you want to be screened for certain diseases or which type of test is best used.

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Should I Get a Screening Test?
  • Colon Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?
  • Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them?
  • HIV Testing: Should I Get Tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus?
  • Osteoporosis: Should I Have a Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) Test?
  • Prostate Cancer Screening: Should I Have a PSA Test?
  • STI Testing: Should I Get Tested for a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
References

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2020). Screening for hepatitis C virus infection in adolescents and adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA, 322(4): 349–354. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.1123. Accessed March 28, 2020.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

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