Medical Tests & Procedures Archive


Cholesterol testing at home: It may be faster, but is it better?

If you don't mind pricking a finger, you can check your cholesterol without sitting around in a doctor's waiting room or laboratory. Devices available in pharmacies or through the Internet make this easy to do at home. But is it worth doing?

The makers of home cholesterol tests rightly tout their products as faster than visiting a doctor. You prick your finger, gently squeeze a few drops of blood onto a test strip or into a small "well," and you get the results in a few minutes, instead of waiting a few days.

Blood pressure screening


High blood pressure may be the most common chronic condition plaguing adults. Physicians need to know the best method for screening patients to identify and treat those patients with hypertension.

According to previous studies, ambulatory monitoring of blood pressure is the most accurate method. The patient wears a portable device programmed to automatically measure and record blood pressure at frequent intervals. But the device is expensive.

New insights about an inherited form of high cholesterol

Although uncommon, this genetic condition is responsible for most heart attacks that occur at a young age.

Very high LDL cholesterol levels usually result from dozens of genetic mutations that each raise LDL by a little bit.
Image: jarun011/Thinkstock

About one in 250 people has a genetic mutation that causes dangerously high cholesterol levels. Known as familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH, this condition can raise levels of harmful LDL cholesterol as high as 350 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)—more than three times higher than the desirable level of less than 100 mg/dL.

Should my doctor take out my ovaries during my hysterectomy?

Ask the doctor

Q. I'm having a hysterectomy for uterine prolapse. Are there advantages to leaving my ovaries, or should they be removed as well?

A. It depends on your age. In the past, it was common to recommend that women who were planning hysterectomies for benign problems to have their fallopian tubes and ovaries removed to greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer—a deadly cancer for which there is no good screening test. If you are nearing or have completed menopause, there is little disadvantage to this approach.

Understanding COPD from a cardiovascular perspective

Some of the causes and symptoms of this common lung disease overlap with those of heart disease.

Even though chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the nation's leading causes of death, many people don't know much about it. What's more, they may mistakenly attribute COPD symptoms — such as trouble breathing, fatigue, and chest tightness during physical activity — to either heart disease or aging.

But recognizing this common condition is important, because treatment and lifestyle changes can help quite a bit, says Dr. Marilyn Moy, a pulmonologist at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "There is far more awareness about heart disease than COPD, so when people have breathing-related symptoms, they often assume it's their heart," she says. Because the breathing challenges caused by COPD appear gradually, people may overlook them or simply adjust their activities to them. People may notice they can't walk as far as they used to, or do other things they enjoy, such as playing with their grandchildren or gardening, Dr. Moy says.

When a stroke strikes

Under new guidelines, more people may qualify for a clot-retrieving procedure that promises better outcomes — once it becomes more widely available.

 Image: © Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. These potentially devastating events are nearly always caused by a blood clot blocking an artery supplying the brain (known as an ischemic stroke). Now, new guidelines have expanded the treatment options for removing or dissolving these clots — a change that experts say will save lives and prevent or limit brain damage from strokes.

"The future of stroke treatment is here. The question is, are we ready?" says Dr. Natalia Rost, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of acute stroke services at Massachusetts General Hospital. Currently, there's a shortage of specialists trained to perform the delicate procedure used to retrieve a clot during a stroke. The professional societies responsible for the training are working to catch up with the demand, she explains.

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