By the time you hit 50, you’re probably familiar with some aches and pains. And you’re likely bombarded with medical advice from well-meaning loved ones. But completing test after test isn’t always the best way to stay healthy.
The most responsible move: Ask your doctor. But for now, these medical procedures can be unnecessary — and even dangerous — if you’re over 50. Many people who undergo one common surgery absolutely don’t need it (page 9).
1. Screenings for carotid artery disease
Why it’s dangerous: Testing can lead to invasive surgeries.
Carotid artery stenosis is no joke. And it’s important to know the symptoms for this disease narrows the arteries and increases stroke risk. If you’re familiar with the symptoms and don’t have any, however, it may be in your best interest to skip the screenings, says AARP.
Glen Stream, M.D., tells the publication, “More people are harmed than helped by having this test,” as it often leads to more testing and, in some cases, invasive surgery. Some of the surgeries may also increase your stroke risk.
Next: It’s good to know your bone health, but you may not need this test yet.
2. Bone density tests
Why it’s dangerous: It may detect mild bone loss, which may not need to be treated.
If you’re not at high risk for bone loss and you’re under the age of 65, you can skip the bone density test, Prevention explains. If you do get these X-rays, which measure minerals in your bones, it’s possible they can detect very mild bone loss, and your doctor may prescribe medications with undesirable side effects. It’s worth noting many treatments only help for a few years.
Next: This procedure may lead to cancer rather than spot it.
3. CT scans
Why it’s dangerous: CT machines contain as much radiation as 200 X-rays.
CT scans can be incredibly useful in identifying tumors, cysts, and other abnormalities. But according to Reader’s Digest, studies show as many as 2% of all U.S. cancer cases could be from the scans themselves. This is because the CT machines contain so much radiation. What’s worse: Many people who get these scans think they need them, when in reality, they may not. Some health professionals recommend the much-safer MRI.
Next: You may need hormones for the rest of your life after this screening.
4. Thyroid screenings
Why it’s dangerous: You may end up removing nodules you don’t need to remove.
Getting your thyroid checked is good — and if you have a family history of thyroid issues, then the test isn’t a bad idea. But Reader’s Digest explains ultrasounds often show small nodules on your thyroid that won’t end up growing at all. However, doctors often recommend you remove them or remove your thyroid altogether. If you get the gland removed, you’ll have to take replacement hormones for life.
Next: This test may not “work out” for you.
5. A cardiac stress test
Why it’s dangerous: This test could lead to unnecessary, invasive procedures.
If you have a family history of heart disease, you may need a cardiac stress test. But if you’re healthy and don’t have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, then you don’t need it, says Prevention. Some doctors recommend you get this test yearly, but you may want to rethink it. The stress test could find abnormalities when your heart is fine — and these blips can lead to other invasive procedures down the road.
Next: Older women should rethink this menopausal procedure.
6. Hormone replacement therapy
Why it’s dangerous: It can hurt your heart long-term.
Reader’s Digest explains hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed to post-menopausal women to ease symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and irritability. But women need to be careful with this therapy; research shows it can actually make heart health worse. Doctors recommend taking HRT for the shortest amount of time possible.
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7. Imaging tests for back pain
Why it’s dangerous: You may be exposed to harmful treatments and radiation.
You should rethink an imaging test for your back pain. The American Academy of Family Physicians says back scans often reveal “abnormalities” that may not be real concerns, according to Prevention. This can lead to unhelpful, or even harmful, treatments. There’s also the radiation to consider. You’re only exposed to a small amount, but it can increase your cancer risk.
Next: No need to get bloody.
8. Blood panels
Why it’s dangerous: Lab errors occur more than many realize.
In many cases, getting your blood work done is necessary. However, Newsweek says you should double check with your doctor if you feel like you’re getting blood work done for every little thing.
If you’re healthy and have never had complications from surgeries or medications in the past, a blood panel testing over 20 measurements often catches something that falls just outside the boundaries of normal. In reality, it’s typically a lab error — but it can cause you a great deal of stress before they figure that out.
Next: Rethink this surprisingly risky surgery if you’re over 50.
9. Coronary angiograms
Why it’s dangerous: The procedure can cause serious complications or death.
The Atlantic explains a coronary angiogram involves inserting a catheter into an artery to check for blockages. While this can be life-saving, it’s not always necessary. Research shows one in 50 people who receive stents will have a serious complication or die from the implantation. As cardiovascular Dr. David L. Brown says, “Nobody that’s not having a heart attack needs a stent.” Ask your doctor about possible other solutions if this is their recommendation.
Next: Half of those who experience this procedure don’t need it.
Why it’s dangerous: Nearly half of patients don’t need it, and it can lead to UTIs.
AARP gives this scary statistic: One in five patients get a urinary catheter inserted. But research shows about half of them don’t need it. If you truly need one, request its removal as soon as possible; your chances of developing a urinary tract infection increase the longer you have a catheter in. UTIs are the most common infections acquired in hospitals, and they can be fatal.
Next: Say goodbye to your favorite foods after this surgery.
11. Gallbladder removal
Why it’s dangerous: The surgery could change the way you eat forever.
Gallbladder surgery doesn’t come with high-risk of complications like other procedures. But CBS News notes many people get their gallbladder removed when they experience mild discomfort. Keep in mind, Prevention notes your tolerance to some foods may change after removing this organ. And your favorite high-fat meal may become off-limits unless there’s a bathroom nearby.
Next: Lose your teeth and you may lose your “nerve.”
12. Dental implants
Why it’s dangerous: Dental implants can cause major nerve damage.
If you’ve lost a few teeth over the years, you may have considered dental implants. But you should keep in mind the risks associated with this procedure. Livestrong.com notes if you don’t clean or floss your implants properly, it can lead to infection. Dental implants can also cause nerve damage if they’re placed incorrectly, and they can lead to complications with your sinuses.
Next: If you elect for this surgery you may elect for wound complications.
13. Breast reduction surgery
Why it’s dangerous: Women over 50 heal slower and get more infections post-surgery.
According to research via The Aesthetic Channel, women over the age of 50 who get breast reduction surgery are more susceptible to infections. Results from a study show the infection rate was 2.7 times higher for this age group than women under 40. Also, the over-50 crowd had a more difficult time healing. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks first.
Next: You’ll lose sleep over this complication.
14. Prescription sleeping pills
Why it’s dangerous: Sleeping pills can cause bad falls.
This isn’t a surgery, but sleeping pills can be risky if you don’t need them. AARP reports seniors should be wary of medications like Restril and Ambien since they increase the risk of falls. The older you get, the higher the likelihood falls will result in hip fractures. If you’re struggling with insomnia, ask your doctor about other therapies.
Next: It seems like a great idea to get this before surgery, but is it really?
15. Pre-surgery testing
Why it’s dangerous: They can be unnecessary, costly, and delay your actual procedure.
It seems wise to receive pre-surgery testing for elective procedures. But AARP notes it’s not always the best course of action. Not only are extra blood tests and X-rays costly, they’re unnecessary in many cases. And results may show abnormalities when nothing is wrong, which can stress you out and cause delays in your surgery plans.