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Important health advice for the New Year

by on January 24, 2019 10:50 AM

January is typically a time when people work on their New Year’s resolutions, many of which involve making positive changes toward improving their health. While many people give up on their resolutions within a few weeks, I urge you to follow through with your pledge to live a healthier lifestyle. Talk with your physician about healthy eating, exercise and stopping bad habits such as smoking.

Be sure to have an annual check-up and discuss the various health screenings that would be beneficial to you. Regular check-ups and screenings play an important role in helping to find any health problems early, when they are easier to treat. Here are some important health screenings for you and your doctor to consider:


About 75 million Americans have high blood pressure, and only half of these people take the appropriate steps to get their high blood pressure under control. Why is controlling your blood pressure so important? High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. The good news is there are lifestyle changes you can make to help keep your blood pressure under control, for example eating food that is low in salt, fat and cholesterol, as well as exercising and not smoking. If necessary, your doctor may also consider prescribing medications to control your pressure.


About one-third of American adults have high cholesterol, another condition that increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. It’s as easy as having a simple fasting blood test to determine your cholesterol reading. There are many factors that contribute to your risk of high cholesterol, including your dietary choices. Take the time to talk with your doctor about this important health screening and the steps you can take to prevent as well as manage your cholesterol.


A contributing factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood glucose also puts you at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, excess glucose in the blood is common to all types of diabetes. Blood glucose is made by the liver or comes from the food we eat. Your doctor can screen your blood glucose and may also suggest HbA1c screenings, which measure the average amount of glucose in your blood over a set period, for example the last two to three months.


According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 41,000 women and 450 men die each year from breast cancer. Having a mammogram, an x-ray of the breast, can help identify breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Various factors, including age and family history of breast disease, are taken into consideration to determine the proper time and frequency for patients to have mammograms completed.


This important screening looks for cancers of the cervix and can also identify pre-cancerous cell changes that can result from the human papillomavirus (HPV). Pap smear tests and HPV testing is typically recommended for most women between the ages of 21 and 65. Ask your doctor for the appropriate tests and frequency of testing for you.


Obesity leads to increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and breathing issues, body pain and many types of cancer. Your doctor can talk with you about a healthy weight and body mass index for you, based on your height and other factors, and arrange for proper nutrition counseling to help you lose weight in a healthy manner.


While more people are being screened for colorectal cancer, about one-third of United States adults between the ages of 50 and 75 still need to follow-up with their healthcare provider regarding this precaution. Nearly all colon cancers begin as precancerous polyps that may be in the colon or rectum for a long period of time without presenting any symptoms or progressing into cancer. The most effective way to reduce your risk is to have regular colon cancer screening tests, usually starting at age 50.


Regular dental cleanings and check-ups are necessary to keep your teeth and gums healthy. It is generally recommended that you see your dentist every six months.

This list of screenings is not exhaustive, but rather a great place to start the conversation with your doctor. Remember to partner with your healthcare providers to ensure 2019 is a happy and healthy year for you and your family.

Michael Hegstrom, MD, is chief medical officer at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital.



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