TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH NOW! TOP TESTS TO HAVE IN YOUR 20s

I have made myself a promise to start anew with a better lifestyle. My diet consisted of high sodium meals, starches galore and fresh fruits and vegetables were practically non-existent. ACTUALLY, it may still consist of these things, but I am slowly waning myself off of these foods (sue me). I have a doctor’s appointment this week for my first physical in years and while I haven’t had the appointment YET, the pending appointment itself has put into perspective the importance of taking better care of myself. As African-Americans, we tend to put our health last on our things to do list.  Typically, it is when a limb is practically falling off or when our insides feel as if they will implode that we decide to visit the doctor.  I decided to do some “research” to find out the tests I should have in my twenties and I guess I can share them with you guys as well since I love my readers. The general consensus seems to be:

1. Cholesterol Check-Up– this test is performed by drawing blood, so if you hate needles, suck it up. This test should be performed more often if you are a diabetic, high cholesterol runs in your family and/or you are a smoker. Having this test performed once every five years can prevent high cholesterol which causes heart disease.  In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst African-Americans, according to the National Vital Statistical Reports.  Thus, I’m not saying stay away from the soul food or any high sodium and fatty meal, but moderation is key.

2. STD/HIV Screening– If you are sexually active with more than one partner, these tests are a no-brainer.  Even if you suspect your partner of having other sexual partners, or you have a new partner- you should still get tested. If you have any symptoms that are remotely similar (ex. itching, unusual discharge, abdominal pain, etc.), visit your doctor and get tested. However, it is also worth noting that many STD’s have no immediate symptoms, so do yourself and your partner a favor and get tested. (This is where I would insert the BET slogan, but I forgot)….. NO SELF-DIAGNOSIS!

3. Dental Exam– Having your teeth examined and cleaned every 6 months to a year is important despite people not following through with that recommendation. Having your teeth examined prevents any possible infections from occurring. Granted, people tend to not see the importance of visiting the dentist unless we experience pain or something is off visibly, like stained or crooked teeth. Many signs of other diseases reflect in your mouth, so have an exam to stay healthy.

4. For Women Only: Get Familiar with Your Ob-Gyn! Getting a Pap smear and breast examination is crucial to any woman’s health in order to prevent diseases, including ovarian and cervical cancer. These tests should be performed annually once you become sexually active or when you turn 21 years old (whichever comes first).  FACT: The majority of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had a Pap smear in five or more years.  Appointments should be scheduled with a Gynecologist when you are experiencing abnormal bleeding, abdominal pain, unusual discharge or any missed periods. So if you’re the Samantha or Wilt Chamberlain type, hey, do you, but be healthy while at it.

5.  For Men Only: Testicular Exam– Men, testicular cancer mainly affects men between the ages of 20-39. Typically, the exam is given during routine physicals.  If you detect any lumps or swelling in a testicle, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

6.  Skin Cancer Screening-According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people who have spent time in the sun, have a family history of skin cancer, have many or unusual moles, should see a dermatologist for annual skin exams. It is still taboo for some in the black community to use sunscreen-as it suggests to some that an individual doesn’t want to get “blacker.” For others, there is a lack of knowledge with the importance of using sunscreen. YES, black folks can get skin cancer. If any moles or anything unfamiliar bumps appear on the skin, visit a dermatologist.

7. Diabetes– If diabetes runs in your family, or you are overweight and have high blood pressure, diabetes testing is a MUST. You are never too young or too old to test for diabetes. In 2005, 12% of African-Americans over 20 years old had diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control. The test is typically performed during a physical with a simple blood test. Learn more about the symptoms here.

Good Habits to Develop:

  • Drink more water!!!- You here it all the time, if you’re like me, you avoid it, but it’s true. Water is our savior. Your skin clears, your hair and nails grow and your kidneys will thank you. NOTE: if you haven’t made a bowel movement in a week, I’m going to need you to head to the store ASAP for a 24 pack of Dasani and get to drinking.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies- Only 39 percent of African-Americans consume 5 or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, compared to 50 percent for all adults statewide. This can spark an entirely different debate since in most African-Americans neighborhoods, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is highly unlikely. Fruits and vegetables contains many vitamins and nutrients (i.e. fiber) that improves your digestion, fills you up so you are less likely to overeat and ultimately gain weight and prevents many cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease (see #1).
  • Exercise! – We must stay active. Not only does it manages our weight, but it improves our sleep, energy levels and not to mention our “sexy time.”  It also aids in the prevention of many cardiovascular diseases as well.

So in all, stay on top of your health. As statistics show (side-eye), because whether or not they all are accurate, it seems as if African-Americans tend to have higher rates for every disease than our non-black counterparts. If something doesn’t feel or look right or isn’t working properly, visit the doctor and check it out. Stop self-diagnosing for fear of what the real results may be. Now, I’m going to go practice what I preach, I’m trying to look like Nia Long when I’m 40 and Patti Labelle when I’m 60.

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