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5 DIY Tests That Could Save Your Life

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Try these easy self-checks of your heart, lungs, hearing and more…

If you’re conscientious about your health, you probably see your doctor for an annual physical…or perhaps even more often if you have a chronic condition or get sick.

But if you’d like to keep tabs on your health between your doctor visits, there are some easy, do-it-yourself tests that can give you valuable information about your body. These tests can sometimes tip you off that you may have a serious medical condition even though you don’t have any symptoms.

Here are self-tests that you can do at home—repeat them once every few months, and keep track of results. See your doctor if you don’t “pass” one or more of the tests…*

TEST #1: STAIRS TEST

Why this test? It helps assess basic lung and heart function.

The prop you’ll need: A single flight of stairs (about eight to 12 steps).

What to do: Walk up the steps at a normal pace while continuously reciting “Mary had a little lamb” or some other simple verse.

Watch out: You should be able to talk easily while climbing the stairs and when at the top—without feeling winded. If you cannot continue to talk, or if you feel discomfort or tightness in your chest at any time during this test, see your ­doctor as soon as possible.

Beware: If the small stress of climbing one flight of stairs causes physical problems, it could be a sign of hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) or heart disease.

For some individuals, being out of breath could mean that they have asthma or bronchitis…chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema…or even lung cancer.

TEST #2: GRAVITY TEST

Why this test? It measures how well your body adapts to changes in position, which can signal a variety of health problems, ranging from anemia to medication side effects.

The prop you’ll need: Either a stopwatch or clock that measures seconds.

What to do: Lie down on a bed or the floor, and rest there for a minute or two. Then, start the stopwatch and stand up at a normal pace with no pauses (it’s OK to use your hands).

Watch out: If you feel dizzy, make note of this. Most people can go from lying down to standing up within five seconds—and feel perfectly normal. In a healthy person, the body responds to the change in posture by pumping blood more strongly to the head.

Beware: Dizziness can signal any of the following…

  • Low blood pressure.
  • With orthostatic hypotension, your body doesn’t pump enough blood to counteract the effects of gravity when you stand up.

  • Medication side effects,
  • especially from diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix)…beta-blockers, such as atenolol (Tenormin) or propranolol (Inderal)…drugs for Parkinson’s disease, such as pramipexole (Mirapex) or levodopa (Sinemet)…tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine (Tofranil) or amitriptyline (Elavil)…or drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis).

  • Dehydration.
  • Anemia.
  • Atherosclerosis,
  • in which blood flow is partially blocked by fatty deposits in blood vessels, or other vascular problems.

    TEST #3: PENCIL TEST

    Why this test? It checks the nerve function in your feet—if ab­normal, this could indicate diabetes, certain types of infections or autoimmune disease.

    The prop you’ll need: A pencil that is freshly sharpened at one end with a flat eraser on the other end…and a friend to help.

    What to do: Sit down so that all sides of your bare feet are accessible. Close your eyes, and keep them closed throughout the test.

    Have your friend lightly touch your foot with either the sharp end or the eraser end of the pencil. With each touch, say which end of the pencil you think was used.

    Ask your friend to repeat the test in at least three different locations on the tops and bottoms of both feet (12 locations total). Have your friend keep track of your right and wrong answers.

    Watch out: Most people can easily tell the difference between “sharp” and “dull” sensations on their sensitive feet. If you give the wrong answer for more than two or three locations on your feet, have your doctor repeat the test to determine whether you have nerve damage (neuropathy).

    Beware: Neuropathy is a common sign of diabetes…certain autoimmune disorders, including lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome…infection, such as Lyme disease, shingles or hepatitis C…or excessive exposure to toxins, such as pesticides or heavy metals (mercury or lead).

    TEST #4: URINE TEST

    Why this test? It helps evaluate the functioning of your kidneys.

    The prop you’ll need: A clear plastic cup or clean, disposable clear jar.

    What to do: In the middle of the day (urine will be too concentrated if you do this first thing in the morning), urinate into the cup or jar until you have caught at least an inch of urine. Throughout the day, note how often you urinate (about once every three waking hours is typical).

    Watch out: The urine should be a pale, straw color—not deep yellow, brown or pinkish. Urine that’s discolored could indicate dehydration, abnormal kidney function or another health problem.

    Next, smell the urine. It should have nothing more than a very faint urine odor (unless you recently ate asparagus).

    Beware: While dark-colored or smelly urine could simply mean that you are dehydrated, there are too many other potentially serious causes to ignore the signs.

    Some of the disorders that can ­affect urine include…

  • Kidney or bladder infection,
  • which can cause discolored urine and frequent urination.

  • Kidney disease,
  • which can cause smelly, discolored urine. Interestingly, both too frequent urination and infrequent urination are signs of kidney disease.

  • Diabetes or enlarged prostate, which can cause frequent urination.
  • TEST #5: “RULE OF THUMB” TEST

    Why this test? It can help identify hearing loss.

    The prop you’ll need: A perfectly quiet room.

    What to do: Rub your right thumb and index finger together continuously to create a kind of “whisper” sound. Raise your right arm so that it’s level with your ear and your arm is roughly forming a right angle. Continue rubbing your thumb and index finger together. Can you still hear the sound? If not, move your hand toward your right ear, stopping when you can just hear the sound. Repeat on the left side.

    Watch out: You should be able to hear this “finger rub” when your hand is six inches or more away from your ear.

    Beware: If you need to be closer than six inches to hear the sound in either ear, you may have hearing loss. See an audiologist or otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) for an evaluation.

    While many people dismiss hearing loss as a mere inconvenience, it can have serious repercussions, such as getting into a car wreck because you can’t hear the sound of a car approaching from the side.

    * These self-tests are not a substitute for a thorough physical exam from your doctor. Use them only as a way to identify potential problem areas to discuss with your physician.

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    Source: David L. Katz, MD, MPH, an internist and preventive medicine specialist. He is cofounder and director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut, and clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Dr. Katz is also president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well (Hudson Street). Date: August 1, 2014 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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