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4 Medical Tests You Might Not Need

With some routine exams, less may be more.

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4 Medical Tests You Might Not Need

When you’re in grade school, the last thing you want to do is take a test. Study? No thanks! In adulthood, we take different kinds of tests—blood work, mammograms, colonoscopies and pregnancy tests. You don’t have to cram, but they’re generally not fun and the results can be real nail-biters. 

Unlike your school-aged self, the grown-up you might think the more tests you get, the safer and healthier you’ll be. (Though that voice in your head right now is the child inside you yelling, “More tests?! No way!”). That way if you need to lower your LDL cholesterol or get more vitamin D, or if you have a disease, you can start addressing the issue right away. Well, you might want to take it easy on the test-taking. Just as we said in our last column about vitamins and supplements, science is proving that too much of a good thing isn’t always so good.

QUIZ: Are You Doing the Right Things for Your Health?

Before you start prepping for your next exam, take a look at these tests you might not need (at least not right now).

1. Mammograms
These famously uncomfortable breast x-rays (if you haven’t had one yet, imagine putting your breast in a Panini press) are typically recommended once a year from the age of 40, unless there’s a history of breast cancer in your family. But recently, physicians have argued that that’s too much. A 2012 study concluded that many women undergo unnecessary surgery, radiation or hormone therapy because their mammograms turned up lumps that wouldn’t have turned into cancer.

Our verdict: We still think these are good idea (along with MRIs) for women with dense breasts. New technology is improving accurate interpretation of test results, so we should see fewer falsely abnormal or questionable tests in the future. Select a mammography site that is on the cutting edge of new software and hardware.

MORE: Medical Tests You DO Need

2. Bone Density Tests
Many women worry about osteoporosis and get DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorbtiometry) scans to find out if their bones are staying strong or getting weaker. The scan isn’t likely to do any direct harm, but it can lead to overly aggressive action. There’s a condition called osteopenia, which means there is mild bone loss. It’s not as bad as osteoporosis and the chances of broken bones is small. Still, doctors may prescribe a drug like Boniva or Fosamax—even if you don’t really need it. And each drug comes with risks and side effects.

Our verdict: We recommend these tests for women at the start of menopause. If your bone density seems low, we encourage you to increase exercise, add more calcium to your diet and take vitamin D3 to get the appropriate level. Get re-scanned annually and track your results for several years to see if you can increase your bone density without resorting to these high-powered drugs.

MORE: Foods to Prevent Bone Loss

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