Many serious health problems are first identified at home, not at the doctor’s office. Research shows that patients are often the first to notice when something feels “off” in terms of their health.
There are many quick and simple tests that you can do at home to check your health without having to take time or go to the expense to go to a medical professional. (FYI – this article focuses on tests for adults).
- Wheeze check
Asthma can make everyday activities and exercising a challenge. However, it’s often overlooked and left undiagnosed, especially in adults. These 2 simple questions can identify 90 percent of people with asthma:
- Do you wheeze sometimes?
- Do you experience shortness of breath while you’re exercising or exerting yourself?
If you answered yes to either or both of these questions, you should get your breathing tested by your doctor.
- Analyze your palm
If you don’t have enough iron in your body, you can develop fatigue, lack of focus problems, shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat. It’s estimated that 20 percent of women and 3 percent of men have low iron. Spread the palm of your hand wide. Are your creases pale? Unusual paleness of your palm creases is a sign of reduced circulation near the surface of your skin due to low iron. If you do have pale creases, a simple blood test will check your iron levels and your doctor can recommend how much iron you should take in supplement form as well as what foods you can eat to increase your iron.
- Tap your toes
Heart rhythm troubles trigger approximately 20 percent of all strokes. Atrial fibrillation isn’t having an occasional missed heartbeat, but extremely irregular rhythms. An estimated 2.2 million Americans with atrial fibrillation don’t realize they have the condition. The test involves tapping your foot to the rhythm of your pulse for one minute. If the beat is so irregular that you can’t tap along, relax for an hour and check again. If it is still irregular, make an appointment with your doctor.
- Diabetes check
According to a CDC survey, just 4 percent of people with prediabetes have been told by their doctors that they have the condition. And another 5.7 million are living with undiagnosed diabetes.
To find out if you are at risk, circle your answers, then add up the points.
- How old are you? (Under 40: 0 points; 40-49: 1; 50-59: 2; 60 or older: 3)
- Are you a woman (0) or a man (1)?
- Does a family member (parent, brother, or sister) have diabetes? (No: 0; yes: 1)
- Do you have high blood pressure or are you on medication for high blood pressure?(No: 0; yes: 1)
- Are you overweight or obese? (Normal weight: 0; overweight: 1; obese: 2; extremely obese: 3)
- Are you physically active? (No: 0; yes: -1)
If your total score is 4 or higher, there’s a good chance you have prediabetes. If it’s 5 or higher, you’re at high risk for diabetes and should see your doctor for a blood sugar test.
- Bend and stretch
Stiff blood vessels make your heart work harder. Research shows that activities that keep your big muscles pliant, such as stretching, may soothe nerve activity that also affects artery flexibility. Doing this simple stretching test may help you prevent a heart attack. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, toes pointed toward the ceiling. Bend forward from your hips and stretch your arms toward your feet, then try to touch your toes. If you can’t touch your toes and even if you can, incorporating daily stretches or yoga into your daily routine will be good for your heart.
- Measure your waist
Your waist circumference is a good indication of your future risk for many health conditions. The thicker your waist, the higher your risk — even if your weight is healthy. In fact, an Archives of Internal Medicine study found that people with high waist circumferences had double the mortality risk of those with lower measurements, regardless of their weight or Body Mass Index (BMI). A large waist circumference means more belly fat, which is linked to higher levels of inflammatory chemicals associated with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
To find out if you’re at risk, bare your torso and stand in front of a mirror. Circle your waist with a tape measure, then move it down until the bottom of the tape rests at the top of your hip bones. Women should aim for a waist measurement of less than 35 inches; for men, less than 40.
- Depression test
Undiagnosed depression is linked to diabetes, heart disease, other chronic health conditions and a much higher risk for suicide. About 70 percent of America’s 15 million depressed women, men, and children get no help for their condition.
Here are three questions to (honestly) ask yourself?
- During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
- During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things that used to make you happy?
- Have you seriously considered either committing suicide or been obsessed with reading about those who have?
- Check your pulse
Your resting heart rate provides important insight into your overall heart health. Research has shown that women with higher resting heart rates have a greater heart attack risk than those with lower resting pulses. A rapid resting heart rate could also identify a heart condition. The easiest way is to place your middle and index finger on your neck, just next to your Adam’s apple. Then follow the second hand on your watch and count your pulse for 30 seconds. Multiply that number by two to get your heart rate. A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. During aerobic exercise, your target pulse is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) — or about 120 to 150 beats per minute for a 45-year old woman. You should see a doctor if your resting pulse is over 100 or below 60 (if you’re not a well-trained athlete).
- Do a skin check
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. More than two million people are diagnosed annually with roughly 58,000 people being diagnosed with the deadliest form–melanoma. The good news is that skin cancer is almost always treatable when caught early. You should especially be vigilant with your checks if you’re fair-skinned, have a family history of skin cancer, or have a lot of moles.
To conduct a skin exam, scan your entire body, beginning with your face and working downward. Don’t forget your groin, palms, fingernails, soles of your feet, toenails, and the areas between your toes. Ask someone to look at your scalp and back. Use the “ABCDE” warning signs: A, for asymmetrical; B for irregular borders; C for abnormal color; D for diameter (larger than a pencil eraser); E for evolving, meaning the mole changes appearance over time. Take pictures to document any suspicious looking moles so you can be aware if they change over time and to also show your dermatologist. If you do find a mole that falls into one of the “ABCDE” categories, make an appointment to see a dermatologist as soon as possible to get it checked.
- Conduct a breast self-exam
Current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stress the importance of what they call “breast self-awareness” among women over age 20. Breast self-awareness is knowing your breasts’ normal appearance and feel. For example, you should know if you have cystic breasts, which can be lumpy or bumpy.
To conduct a self-exam, work your way around the entire breast, including underneath the armpit, gently pressing your fingertips into your breast tissue.
Feel for anything unusual — lumps, skin dimpling, bruises, and changes to your nipple, including discharge. Call your doctor right away if you notice any difference from the norm. It is recommended that breast self-exams are done after age 20 on a monthly basis following the monthly menstrual cycle.
Note: American Cancer Society’s breast cancer screening guideline is that women with an average risk of breast cancer should undergo regular, annual screening mammography beginning at age 45 years. Less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men.
- Monitor your sleep
If you are consistently waking up feeling exhausted despite your best efforts to get enough rest, you could have a sleep disorder. One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apnea, a condition in which you have constant pauses in breathing while you sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sleep apnea affects millions of Americans, most of whom don’t know they have it.
To absolutely confirm that you have sleep apnea you will need a sleep test in a lab. However, this at-home version can signal the need to seek more testing.
Have your partner pay attention to your snoring pattern. If it’s very loud, is peppered with occasional pauses (ranging from 10 seconds to a minute or longer), or includes gasping for breath, moaning, or mumbling, sleep apnea may be the culprit. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea then treating it with a special CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask you wear in your sleep can reduce future serious health issues.
If you have negative results by doing any of the above tests, then you should make an appointment to see your doctor, especially if it involves your heart, a suspicious mole or lump found in your breast (women).