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Health Screening: Finding Health Problems Early

Overview

Why is it important to find health problems early?

Screening tests help your doctor look for certain diseases before any symptoms appear. 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.

Regular screening tests and checkups can help you stay healthy. Talk with your doctor whenever you have concerns about your health.

How do you decide when to get a screening test?

When and how often you get screening tests may depend on your age, your sex, your health status, and your risk factors. In some cases, testing is done as part of a routine checkup.

Your doctor may suggest screening tests based on expert guidelines. Sometimes different expert panels make different recommendations. In these situations, talk with your doctor to decide which guidelines best meet your health needs.

You also may need some screening tests earlier or more often if:

  • You have a higher risk for a certain disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, or colon cancer.
  • You have a long-term health problem, such as diabetes.

When you are thinking about getting a screening test, talk with your doctor. Find out about the disease, what the test is like, and how the test may help you or hurt you. 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 that the test looks for. 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?

Credits

Adaptation Date: 11/27/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.