In college and your early 20s, it’s easy to feel invincible and as though health problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are light years away. And if you’re generally feeling well and don’t have any chronic or pre-existing conditions, it’s an understandable mistake to think that it’s okay to put preventive health care on the back-burner — but still a mistake.
It’s never too early to ask your doctor to perform important medical tests. And if you’re on your parents’ health care plan, you’ll want to make the most of it before you’re booted off and left to navigate the insurance marketplace on your own. These tests are critical because they can catch health problems that don’t cause symptoms until they’ve become moderately to severely serious. The sooner you’re aware that you’re at risk or have a problem, the sooner you can seek treatment to manage or cure the issue.
Dr. Denise Pate of The Medical Offices of Manhattan told HelloGiggles that these are the five most important medical tests to schedule before you turn 26 — and what each test will tell you about your health.
When it’s unknown to the patient and therefore goes untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease (a circulatory condition that reduces blood flow to your limbs), Pate told HelloGiggles. She emphasized that people with high blood pressure are often asymptomatic for many years until it gets so high that it becomes a hypertensive emergency and they develop symptoms, including headaches, visual changes, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
The lipid panel is a panel of blood tests that show the breakdown of your cholesterol levels. It’s broken down into multiple components: total cholesterol, the LDL (bad cholesterol), the HDL (good cholesterol), and triglycerides. Pate told HelloGiggles that most people’s cholesterol levels are heavily influenced by their diets.
While you don’t want your LDL to be high, the opposite is true of HDL, because that’s what shows the level of good, protective cholesterol present in your body. To make your HDL higher, Pate recommended exercising and ingesting foods with healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados.
The Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test related to diabetes. Your body’s sugar levels on any given day aren’t necessarily indicative of your diabetes risk because, for example, they can become temporarily elevated due to something you ate earlier in the day. The results of a Hemoglobin A1C test, on the other hand, show an average of where your blood sugars have been over the past three months.
When you get an STD test, Pate said the big things doctors normally check for are HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. In addition to causing serious health issues for you, these diseases are communicable and, as Pate told HelloGiggles, it’s a “social responsibility” to know your status so you don’t pass an STD to another person.
“All women over the age of 21 should be seeing an OB/GYN,” Pate told HelloGiggles — so if you don’t already have one, it’s time to set up that first appointment.
A pelvic exam should include a Pap smear, which serves as a cervical cancer screening. Pate explained that HPV, a virus that can predispose you to developing cervical cancer, doesn’t show up in blood tests.
Now that you know which medical tests to prioritize, it’s time to schedule those doctor’s appointments. Your body will thank you in 10 years — and in some instances, much sooner.