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Three Ounces Of Prevention

How often? Once every five years.

What will it cost me? Nothing.

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What are they looking for? Risk of heart attack or stroke. While HDL cholesterol helps remove fat deposits from your blood vessels, LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries, reducing the flow of blood. If a blood clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries, you're in big trouble: The blockage can cut off the flow of blood to the heart, causing a heart attack, or to the brain, causing a stroke. A high triglyceride level not only signals higher risk of heart attack, but also may indicate diabetes.

What can I expect at the visit? All that's required is a simple blood draw. You may be asked to fast for nine to 12 hours beforehand.

Why are these tests important? You can't control many of the risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, race and age. But you can control cholesterol. If the tests show your cholesterol count is too high, your doctor will advise you on what you need to do to get it back down. (You may just need to improve your diet and exercise habits, but you may need medication as well.) Many seniors already get regular cholesterol tests, because Medicare has paid for them in the past for people who already had a diagnosed cardiovascular problem, such as high blood pressure or a past heart attack, said Novamed's Crantz. But you can have high cholesterol even though you display no other symptoms. With these screening tests, your doctor can catch the high cholesterol before the other problems develop.

Diabetes screening

Who qualifies? Only beneficiaries considered at risk for developing diabetes. Medicare defines "at risk" as having any of these risk factors:

• hypertension (high blood pressure);

• dyslipidemia (off-balance blood lipids, such as high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and/or low HDL cholesterol);

• obesity (a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more);

• pre-diabetes.

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