Recognizing Warnings Signs of Health Threats for Seniors with Medicare
Preserving your good health is an ongoing effort, and one of the keys to a long, active life is preventive care. By taking care of yourself and recognizing warning signs of disease, you may be able to prevent problems before they start or get worse. Knowing what to watch for can also help you make the most of your Medicare coverage and get better use out of visits to your health-care professionals.
Big threats to seniors’ health
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the leading causes of death for those over age 65 are heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease. While these are serious problems that may build up over a lifetime, if you start by recognizing the warning signs, you and your doctor may be able to treat problems before they get worse. Luckily, Medicare covers a variety of preventative screenings that can help.
Recognizing the warning signs of heart disease
Heart disease encompasses several major conditions, such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. But the American Heart Association points out that they all can have similar warning signs, such as:
- Chest pain
- Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Nausea, vomiting, or light-headedness
Medicare beneficiaries can get cardiovascular disease screenings covered by Medicare Part B. This includes blood tests for cholesterol, lipid, and triglyceride levels once every 5 years, which helps uncover conditions that lead to heart disease. The tests have no cost if the doctor accepts Medicare assignment.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it is required to provide the same level of coverage as Original Medicare, Part A and Part B (except for hospice care, which is still provided by Part A). Thus, a Medicare Advantage plan should cover these screenings as well as Part B.
Recognizing the warning signs of cancer
Each type of cancer has different warning signs, but seniors should be aware of these general symptoms to discuss with their doctors:
- A thickening or lump in or on the body (such as a lump in the breast)
- Unexpected weight gain or loss
- Feeling weak or very tired
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Hoarseness or a cough that does not go away
- Difficulty swallowing
- Changes in toilet habits
- Discomfort after eating
Women with Medicare coverage can get a screening mammogram once every 12 months to check for breast cancer. They can also get a Pap test and pelvic exam to check for cervical and vaginal cancer once every 24 months or once every 12 months if you’re at high risk for cervical or vaginal cancer. These tests are covered by Medicare Part B and have no cost if the doctor accepts assignment.
Men with Medicare can get prostate cancer screenings once every 12 months under Part B. The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test has no cost if the doctor accepts assignment, while you pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor’s services for the digital rectal exam. The Part B deductible applies, and in a hospital outpatient setting, you also pay a copayment.
Beneficiaries can get several types of colorectal cancer screenings covered by Medicare Part B, depending on the kind their doctors request. A fecal occult blood test is covered once every 12 months at no cost if the doctor accepts Medicare assignment. A flexible sigmoidoscopy or screening colonoscopy is covered once every 10 years at no cost if the doctor accepts assignment. A barium enema is covered once every 48 months, and you pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor’s services, plus in a hospital outpatient setting, you also pay a copayment.
For these cancer screenings, you may qualify for more frequent tests if your doctor considers you to be at high risk.
If you smoke, Medicare will cover tobacco-use cessation counseling. If you have not yet been diagnosed with a tobacco-related illness, the counseling has no cost if the health-care provider accepts assignment. This can be an excellent way to improve your health and help prevent possible cancers. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a tobacco-related disease, Medicare will cover 20 percent of the cost of counseling, and the Part B deductible applies.
Recognizing the warning signs of chronic lower respiratory disease
The most common form of chronic lower respiratory disease is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is actually a group of conditions including emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. All of these cause breathing problems, and a history of smoking can worsen the disease, according to the CDC. Some warning signs seniors should look for are:
- A lingering cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus
- Shortness of breath, particularly with physical activity
- Wheezing when you breathe
- Chest tightness
If you are prone to COPD, it’s very important that you don’t smoke. If you have this habit, consider taking advantage of tobacco-use cessation counseling covered by Medicare Part B.
Also, if you have never had a pneumococcal shot, you may want to get one. Part B covers this at no cost if the doctor or health-care provider accepts assignment. Pneumonia can cause serious complications in people with COPD, so prevention is vital.
Seniors who want to take care of their health should learn to recognize the warning signs of these common diseases. This will help you get more out of your Medicare coverage and live a longer, healthier life.
“Leading Causes of Death,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015.
“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015.
eHealth is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This article is for informational purposes only. It should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.