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7 Medical Tests and Treatments You May Not Really Need

Think twice before getting these procedures or meds

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En español | The exercise stress test that's part of your yearly physical. The MRI you got when you threw out your back moving the couch. The antibiotics you took for your sinus infection.

You probably didn't need any of them.

See also: AARP Health Record is a safe place to manage your family's health information.

A stethoscope in the shape of a normal EKG graph

Many common medical exams may not be needed for people over age 50. — Photo by Caspar Benson/fstop/Corbis

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIM) asked nine medical societies — from family doctors to allergists and cardiologists — to each identify five commonly used medical tests and treatments that are often unnecessary. A list of 45 overused procedures was presented Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"We're changing the culture in medicine," says Christine K. Cassel, M.D., president of the ABIM, about this new Choosing Wisely campaign, which represents some 375,000 doctors. Consumer Reports also has joined the doctors' campaign.

"Too much testing is being done that isn't needed, that doesn't work," says John Santa, M.D., who directs health ratings for Consumer Reports.

Here are seven of the most popular, most overused tests and treatments for people over age 50 that the AARP Bulletin has selected from the Choosing Wisely campaign. For the complete list go to choosingwisely.org.

1.  EKG and other heart screening tests for low-risk people without symptoms.

American Academy of Family Physicians

These can be lifesaving for those experiencing chest pain or other symptoms of heart disease. But a 2010 Consumer Reports survey found that 44 percent of people with no signs or symptoms of heart disease had an EKG, an exercise stress test or an ultrasound. For several years, cardiology guidelines have discouraged heart screening tests for people who have no symptoms and are not at high risk, and yet their use "is more common than it needs to be," says James Fasules, M.D., an official with the American College of Cardiology. For those at low risk for heart disease, an EKG or cardiac stress test is far more likely to show a false positive result than find a real problem.

Dangers: False positive tests often lead to more tests and even invasive heart procedures.

Exceptions: If you have diabetes or other conditions that raise your risk, talk to your doctor. Use this calculator to find out your 10-year risk of having a heart attack.

2.  Bone scans for osteoporosis for women under 65 and men under 70 with no risk factors.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Bone density decreases and the risk of fractures increases with age, but medical experts say that most women don't need a bone density test until age 65. Still, many doctors recommend the scan starting at age 50.

Dangers: Bone density (DXA) scans can lead to unneeded medications that can have serious side effects.

Exceptions: Talk to your doctor about a scan before age 65 (70 if you're a man) if you were or are a smoker; you've used steroid medications regularly; have low body weight; or have already had a fracture. This FRAX tool can help you calculate your risk.

Next:  Are narcotics safer than ibuprofen? »

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