Preventative Health Screenings: Are They Right for Me?
You’ve probably received them in the mail. Those colorful flyers from companies that advertise a variety of preventative health screenings. I used to think they were scams and immediately tossed the flyers into the wastebasket.
Why Was I Sceptic?
Part of my scepticism came from hearing about a few health screening companies that promoted expensive exams that were completely unnecessary. Some of the tests even bordered on ridiculous.
In addition, there have been concerns that these exams sometimes turn up benign abnormalities. This means that the conditions aren’t exactly normal, but they don’t cause the person any harm. Oftentimes, this results in follow-up testing that’s invasive, expensive and not necessary.
What Changed My Mind?
Hearing this, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that I recently signed up for one of these exams, and I had it done last week. So, what changed my mind? This particular flyer offered what is called a vascular screening.
Several years ago, my mom died shortly after going through a surgical procedure known as carotid endarterectomy. It was a necessary procedure because one of the main blood vessels in her neck was becoming blocked.
The build-up of plaque (a fatty substance) in her artery interfered with the flow of blood to her brain, and this put her at a greatly increased risk of a stroke. The surgery was meant to clean out her carotid artery and restore adequate circulation. Unfortunately, Mom didn’t survive.
As I approach my 60th birthday, I’m concerned I might follow in my mom’s footsteps and develop this condition, too. Besides the increased risk of stroke, it also places a person at higher risk for dementia.
Today I’ll share my experience with a vascular screening and perhaps help you decide if this or a similar screening is right for you.
I think it’s important to note that since these tests are considered preventative, health insurance typically won’t cover the exams. In my case, the charge for the screening was $75.
My screening experience consisted of the following steps:
Carotid Artery Ultrasound
A carotid artery ultrasound is the test that looks for blockages in the carotid arteries, the condition my mom experienced. A small probe was placed on the front of my neck over the two main arteries that supply my brain.
The resulting ultrasound took pictures of the insides of these arteries to reveal any blockages. I could hear a ‘swooshing’ sound as the test was being done. The technician put a gooey gel on my neck before the procedure, but otherwise, I didn’t feel any discomfort.
Abdominal Aortic Ultrasound
Similarly, the abdominal aortic ultrasound involved placing a small probe on my abdomen to look at my aorta, the main artery coming out of my heart. The ultrasound looks for enlargement or bulging of the aorta which could result in a rupture of the weakened blood vessel wall.
This type of aneurysm is sometimes hereditary, but it can also develop from a variety of other risk factors. While there is no history of this condition in my family, I was glad the test was included, as a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is often deadly. Again, there was no discomfort with this exam.
Ankle Brachial Index
The ankle brachial index test is a bit different than the others because it involves placing blood pressure cuffs on both arms and both legs. There was a bit of discomfort as the cuffs were inflated, but it wasn’t significant, and it only lasted a couple of minutes.
The purpose of this exam is to look for signs of peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This condition results from the build-up of fatty substances on the linings of the arteries.
Over time, PVD increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It also frequently causes pain and loss of mobility. My mom suffered from PVD (and I do mean suffered), so this is another condition that causes me concern.
The Good News?
I can happily announce that all of my test results were normal. So, was it worth it for me to pay out-of-pocket for these exams? Absolutely! I walked away with a huge sense of relief that what happened to my mom probably won’t happen to me.
That being said, it also made me more determined than ever to take steps to protect my health and prevent these conditions from developing in the future.
You see, the last time I had my cholesterol checked, it was elevated. That’s a risk factor for developing the build-up of plaque in my arteries. As a result, I’m now working on dietary and exercise strategies to get my cholesterol level back down to normal.
Does this mean that everyone in our age group needs to pursue these or similar exams? Not necessarily. These are a few factors to consider before making an appointment:
- Consider your personal and family history. Choose the tests that are right for you as an individual.
- Talk with your medical provider for professional input.
- Research the diagnostic company you’re considering and check their reviews. Be sure they have a good reputation before you hand over your money.
- Find out if your health insurance will cover any of these tests.
What do you think about preventative health screenings? Have you ever had an experience similar to mine? Do you feel going through those screenings was worthwhile? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Diane Lansing, RN, enjoys working part-time as a corporate wellness nurse. She has over 25 years of experience in geriatric nursing, and her passion is working with residents of memory care units. She loves volunteering at nursing homes and blogs about her experiences at NursingHomeVolunteer.com.
Editor’s note: Nothing in this article should be considered medical advice. Always consult a doctor before making any changes to your diet, medical plan, or exercise routine.