Medical Tests & Procedures Archive

Articles

Look inside your heart

The traditional measures to gauge heart disease risk don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes more medical information is needed. An increasingly used test to predict a person’s risk for heart attack or stroke is a coronary artery calcium scan. It measures the amount of calcified plaque in the heart’s arteries, high levels of which suggest higher overall plaque buildup. The number can determine if people should begin statin therapy and make additional lifestyle changes.

Vitamin D and the big C

New research has found an association between high and low levels of vitamin D and cancer risk. However, many older adults don’t get the recommended daily amount of 600 to 800 international units, as the main sources of vitamin D are sun exposure (which many people try to avoid) and certain foods, like fatty fish, fortified milk and cereal. Getting vitamin D levels checked to find a possible deficiency can reveal if someone needs more vitamin D, which may require taking a daily supplement.

5 important blood tests beyond the basics

Five blood tests beyond basic blood work may be worth pursuing for older adults. For example, a test to determine one’s vitamin B12 level might be helpful, since older adults sometimes have trouble absorbing that vitamin. Likewise, older adults have less ability to absorb sunlight through the skin, which may lead to less production of vitamin D. Other blood tests to consider include those for HIV or hepatitis C infection, and a test to measure fasting blood sugar.

Advisory group: Too soon to recommend routine vitamin D screening

An advisory group finds there is not enough evidence to recommend routine screening for vitamin D deficiency.

Large review study finds low risk of erectile dysfunction after prostate biopsy

Prostate cancer biopsies have a low risk of side effects, but some men do experience sexual dysfunction after the procedure. But a large review of sdudies has found that these issues usually resolve within one to three months.

Screening for lung cancer

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends more people should undergo lung cancer screening.

More people now eligible for lung cancer screening

Updated guidelines suggest current and former smokers get an annual lung cancer screening including those who have quit within the past 15 years.

Less-invasive treatment for unsightly leg veins as good as surgery

Research we're watching

A minimally invasive treatment for treating varicose veins is as effective as surgery to remove the faulty veins, according to a new study.

Most varicose veins — gnarled, bluish veins just under the skin's surface — result from problems with the great saphenous vein, the large vein located near the inside of the leg that runs from the ankle to the upper thigh. The surrounding muscles and one-way valves in the vein weaken, a condition called venous insufficiency.

Suspected heart attack? Don’t fear the emergency room due to COVID-19

In addition to a prompt assessment and potentially lifesaving treatment, expect a COVID-19 test and extra safety precautions.

Even before the pandemic, people with heart attack symptoms sometimes hesitated to seek emergency care. But during the first wave of COVID-19 infections in early 2020, many more people than usual stayed away. From mid-March to late May 2020, emergency room visits for heart attacks fell by 23% compared with the preceding 10 weeks. And 20% fewer people showed up with strokes, according to the CDC.

Fear of leaving home and risking exposure to the coronavirus likely explains this trend, which has abated over time. "The overall volume at emergency rooms is still somewhat below normal, and we're seeing people who come in many hours or even a day after their heart attack symptoms began," says Dr. Joshua Kosowsky, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School. These people sometimes have signs of heart damage that might have been easier to reverse or treat if they had come in right away, he adds.

What is inflammation?

 

Think of inflammation as the body's natural response to protect itself against harm. There are two types: acute and chronic. You're probably more familiar with the acute type, which occurs when you bang your knee or cut your finger. Your immune system dispatches an army of white blood cells to surround and protect the area, creating visible redness and swelling. The process works similarly if you have an infection like the flu or pneumonia. So in these settings, inflammation is essential—without it, injuries could fester and simple infections could be deadly.

Chronic inflammation

But chronic inflammation can also occur in response to other unwanted substances in the body, such as toxins from cigarette smoke or an excess of fat cells (especially fat in the belly area). Inside arteries, inflammation helps kick off atherosclerosis—the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque. Your body perceives this plaque as abnormal and foreign, so it attempts to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood. But if that wall breaks down, the plaque may rupture. The contents then mingle with blood, forming a clot that blocks blood flow. These clots are responsible for the majority of heart attacks and most strokes.

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