The human body constantly performs an incredibly complex biochemical balancing act; it has intricate built-in mechanisms for adjusting even minute changes in the blood chemistry. Chemicals flow in and out of cells; the lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; the heart beats regularly, pumping blood throughout the body. But when things go wrong, because of disease or the malfunctioning of an organ or system, the natural order is upset, and it isn’t always easy to find out why.
Fortunately, doctors today have access to an impressive – and often costly – array of medical tests designed to monitor the operations of the body. Some of these medical tests are simple, safe and inexpensive; others are time-consuming and complex and may include an element of risk or discomfort. They can also be very expensive. The direct and indirect costs of medical testing amount to many millions of dollars every year.
All medical tests have a single purpose: to detect changes large and small, in the body’s balancing act’. These changes can pinpoint – or the rule out – existence of a particular medical problem. It is important, however, to remember two things about medical tests: they are not always necessary and they are not always accurate. In certain instances, in fact, they may confuse an intricate medical situation rather than clarify it.
You should also be aware that you have the right to agree to or reject any medical test. To exercise that right wisely, however, you must be an informed and responsible medical consumer.
The Screening Tests
Screening tests (type of medical test) are used in periodic checkups for two reasons. Firstly, such tests can detect abnormal conditions at an early stage, when they may be most effectively treated. Secondly, screening tests performed at regular intervals can reveal changes in the body that, while still in the normal range, may indicate developing problems. Armed with such information, a doctor might suggest something as simple as a change in diet. Screening tests are a diagnostic aid only, and should be interpreted in the light of physical symptoms and signs.
Many valuable screening tests are simple and inexpensive and can be formed in the doctor’s own surgery or in a nearby laboratory. These include measuring blood pressure, testing the blood or urine, or taking a cervical smear.