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Which routine medical tests can I skip?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
All good doctors know that you shouldn't spend a dime on x-rays, lab tests, antibiotics or blood work you don't need. Yet, you probably do every time you see even the best-intentioned physician. Why? Often because MDs are going overboard, trying to "cover all the bases" (or, in some cases, their behinds).

Now, coalitions of physicians are urging each other and you to just say no to the following unless both you and your doctor are sure you need them:
  • X-rays for lower-back pain. Lower-back pain is miserable, but it usually clears up in a few days to a few weeks. An x-ray won't make you feel better. It'll just expose you to radiation. Get one only if the pain lasts six weeks, sharply worsens or you have other symptoms, such as leg problems.
  • Antibiotics for sinusitis. It's unlikely to be bacterial, especially in the first 10 days, yet 80% of the millions of people who see doctors for sinusitis every year get a prescription for antibiotics, which only fight bacterial infections. You're taking drugs that won't work.
  • A pap test if you've had a total hysterectomy. The surgery removed your cervix. Paps look for abnormal cervix cells. No cervix, no point.
  • A "routine" ECG. Plenty of savvy docs order electrocardiograms for people 40 and older as part of a routine checkup, no matter how healthy they are.
  • A bone-density scan if you're younger than 65. You don't need one unless you've lost height, taken steroids or had a bizarre bone fracture, such as from a hard sneeze.
  • A complete blood work-up or urine analysis if you're healthy. Save them for when something internal has gone amuck.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.