I remember hearing this story on NPR back at the start of the year. Basically what it says is that if you get to middle age as a non-smoker, with good cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure, your chance of dying of a heart attack is super-low. But if you have two or more of these risk factors, you only have a 50/50 chance of getting to The End without a heart attack.
On hearing this, I felt an overwhelming urge to tell my twenty-year-old self to get with the program, that my already-middle-aged self couldn’t do anything about it at this point. Twenty-year-old self thumbed his nose at me and ate more Cheetos.
I hadn’t had a physical in a few years (in my defense, my doctor told me the last time to come back “in a few years”), and I don’t think I’d ever had my cholesterol or glucose checked. Like ever.
So, on the cusp of 42, I scheduled a physical.
My doctor is a hoot. She’s like 6 foot, tall and muscular, and could snap me like a twig. She’s also funny and personable, and likes taking some time to chat. We went over how I’d been, how I was interested in this blood panel of stats, and, oh yeah, we have this little prostate thing to check, now that you’re over 40.
I had been expecting this, but was holding out hope because in some places on the Internet you can find people who say you can wait until age 50 before checking your prostate health. Of course, other places on the Internet will tell you it’s best to check your prostate health yourself. And those places have video. The Internet is all about picking and choosing your sources, right?
My doctor hadn’t been to either of these sites, apparently, as she went on to deliver a very detailed description of what she was about to do. In the end (rimshot!) it was quick, painless, and really kind of anticlimactic. It seems my prostate is fine. She tossed her glove, washed her hands, and we went on to stories about her kids (apparently they’d LOVE my t‑shirt).
On Monday, I got my blood test results. And as it turns out, I am well within the healthy norms for all the things they check.
So, yay me. Not dead yet.
In reading the linked study (yes, the actual study, yay Internet! I forgive you for the prostate self-test videos), a couple things are clear.
First, I still have a long way to go (age 55) to really meet their criteria, so I have some time before I can start huffing cans of Reddi-wip for breakfast.
And second, lowering the incidence of heart disease and heart related deaths (and stroke, they mentioned, too) really requires preventing risk factors from emerging, rather than treating them once they exist. Getting regular blood tests to monitor your blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol can be key in noticing when things are getting bad before they get bad.
Which means, go see your doctor, twenty-year-old selves.