Doctor’s Tip: Doctor, should I sign up for Life Line Screening?
This is a common question that people ask doctors when Life Line Screening comes to town. This traveling screening company comes around once a year. You might have found a pink flyer in your local newspaper advertising that this screening will be in Carbondale on Aug. 19 and Aspen Aug. 20 (call 1-800-364-0457 for the required preregistration).
The short answer as to whether it’s worth the $149 charge is that if you are 40 or older, it is well worth the money. If you were to have these tests on your own, they would cost hundreds of dollars, and most insurance companies wouldn’t pay for most of them, if any.
Four out of the five tests screen for cardiovascular disease — heart attacks are the main cause of death in the U.S., and strokes aren’t far behind and are the main cause of long-term disability. Screening for cardiovascular disease is always a good thing:
• Carotid artery ultrasound is a painless, non-invasive test that looks for evidence of hardening-of-the-arteries (plaque) in the arteries in your neck. If plaque is found there, you undoubtedly have plaque elsewhere such as your coronary (heart) arteries, and you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Almost all heart attacks and strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes and/or medication. Doctors Ornish and Esselstyn proved that plaque can even be reversed, with a plant-based, unprocessed food diet with no salt, sugar or added oil. The Life Line ultrasound should not be confused with carotid IMT, which is more sensitive and picks up earlier signs of arterial disease.
• Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening is another test done by Life Line. If it’s abnormal, that means you have plaque in your leg arteries — another indication that you have plaque elsewhere. If found, this needs to be treated aggressively as well.
• Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is also offered by Life Line. The aorta is the big artery that comes out of the heart, and runs down through the chest and abdomen where it brings blood to the abdominal and pelvic organs and the legs. As people age, some — especially male smokers — develop a weak spot which bulges out, called an aneurysm. Rupture leads to sudden death, and rupture can be prevented if the bulge is found at an early stage and fixed. Almost all authorities agree that all men 65 and older who are current smokers or who have a history of smoking have an abdominal ultrasound to screen for AAA. Ruptured AAAs kill some 30,000 Americans each year, and because 22 percent of people with AAA are non-smokers and 40 percent of AAA fatalities occur in women, other authorities recommend more aggressive screening. For example, in “Beat the Heart Attack Gene,” Bale and Doneen advise that all people of both sexes get screened at age 50 — age 40 in smokers, people with a family history of AAA, and people who have a positive 9P21 gene.
• Atrial fibrillation screen is another test included in the package. This is a relatively common heart rhythm disturbance that sometimes causes no symptoms but which can lead to blood clots to the brain if left untreated.
• Osteoporosis (“thinning of the bones”) is common in young female endurance athletes, young people with eating disorders, and in post-menopausal women, although older men can develop it too. Early diagnosis can lead to early treatment and reversal. The gold standard for diagnosis is the DEXA scan, which involves assessing the bone density of the wrist, the hip and the lumbar spine. Life Line Screening just checks the heel bone, which isn’t as accurate. If that measurement is abnormal or borderline normal, you should have the DEXA scan.
The bottom line is that early detection of disease can always be helpful, and the Life Line tests are very cost-effective.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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