As you age, a lot of things happen inside your body that you can’t see, and might not see coming. Annual blood tests are your first line of defense against life-threatening diseases. Blood analysis can detect changes in your endocrine system to spot a thyroid issue, high or low trends in blood glucose, a buildup of cholesterol that could end in heart disease or stroke, and more.
We’ve compiled the most important annual blood tests you can have to take control of your personal health.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
The CBC is a comprehensive test of key blood components: red (oxygen-carrying) blood cells, white (infection-fighting) blood cells, and platelets (clotting particles).
Red blood cells: If your red blood cell count is low, your blood is starved for oxygen and you might feel tired and short of breath. Your doctor might diagnose anemia, which can easily be controlled with a diet rich in iron and the addition of supplemental B vitamins. Combating low energy could be as simple as eating more green veggies every day.
White blood cells: White blood cells fight infection. If your white blood cell count is high, it could indicate an infection, which isn’t always obvious. A sinus infection, for example, often feels much like allergies. Elevated white cell count can also be the first indicator of a more serious problem, such as cancer. Catching serious issues early almost always relies on blood tests.
Platelets: If your platelet count is low, it may indicate a clotting problem, which could be caused by a number of factors, including medicines you’re taking.
Hemoglobin A1C (Blood sugar)
No one really knows what causes insulin resistance and diabetes, so you can’t assume you’re safe from the disease even if you’re young, fit, and have no family history. The only way to be sure is to have an HbA1c test once a year. This test measures the level of blood glucose built up in your blood over a three month period. If you are inching toward diabetes, your HbA1c results will be higher than normal.
If you’re an active person with a healthy diet, you probably won’t need to worry about your cholesterol. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fit that description. An annual cholesterol test measures your levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol), and triglycerides (blood fats). To lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, your LDL and triglycerides should be low, and your HDL should be in balance. Most people need more HDL, which you can raise by eating the good fats found in foods such as avocados, olive oil, oily fish and nuts. You may also be able to control your HDL and triglyceride levels with diet and exercise.
C-reactive protein (CRP)
The CRP test measures the level of inflammation in your body. Recent medical research links inflammation with a wide range of serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and cognitive decline. Smokers are at increased risk for high CRP levels.
Inflammation is another issue influenced by a healthy lifestyle. When you know what’s going on inside, you can work with your doctor to find the right diet and exercise routine to stay healthy and on-track.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
Thyroid problems are more often associated with women, but they’re common to men as well. Your thyroid levels can be affected by stress and poor sleeping habits, causing a whole range of symptoms.
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can lead to mood swings, hair loss, weight gain, memory problems, and cloudy or muddled thinking.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) causes increased heart rate, anxiety, sleep problems and weight loss, and can result in a swollen area in the neck called a goiter.
Either condition can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.
Health of both men and women is affected by testosterone levels. Testosterone is a hormone produced by the testes in men and by the ovaries in women, and in the adrenal glands of both sexes. As you age, testosterone levels decline.
In women, decreased testosterone affects libido and overall well-being. High testosterone may result in increased body hair and polycystic ovarian syndrome
In men, high testosterone can result in aggression and anxiety, while low testosterone may lead to low sexual desire, metabolic syndrome, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle tone, increased abdominal fat, low bone density, depression and other serious conditions.
Most physicians order only routine blood tests, if they ask for blood tests at all. To take charge of your own health, know which tests are important – and ask for them.