Practice Alert

Catching up on the latest USPSTF recommendations

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Screening is now encouraged for hepatitis B in those at high risk and for gestational diabetes at 24 weeks gestation. Low-dose aspirin is also advised for pregnant women at risk for preeclampsia.



In 2014, the United States Preventive Services Task Force released 24 recommendations on 14 topics.1 There were no level A recommendations, 10 B recommendations, 1 C recommendation, 3 D recommendations, and 10 I statements. A and B recommendations require that commercial insurance plans offer the recommended services at no cost to patients. This Practice Alert focuses on last year’s B and D recommendations (TABLE 11).

Cardiovascular disease

When to screen for abdominal aortic aneurism. The Task Force (TF) reaffirmed a previous B recommendation for a one-time abdominal ultrasound (US) screening for abdominal aortic aneurism (AAA) in men ages 65 to 75 years who have ever smoked. This screening and follow-up of abnormal findings results in decreased AAA rupture and AAA-related mortality, although it appears to have no effect on all-cause mortality.2 The value of screening men who have never smoked is very small and should be considered selectively for men who have a family history of AAA, or a personal history of cardiovascular risk factors or disease. The prevalence of AAA in men in the target age group is 6% to 7% (it is 0.8% for women overall in the same age range).2

The recommended screening modality, abdominal US, matches the sensitivity and specificity of abdominal CT but at lower cost and with no radiation exposure. Refer patients with AAAs ≥5.5 cm for surgical repair.2

Patients with smaller aneurysms (3.0 to 5.4 cm) can be managed conservatively with repeated US every 3 to 12 months. Patients with AAAs <3 cm that exhibit rapid growth (>1 cm/year) or that cross the threshold of 5.5 cm on repeated US should undergo surgical consultation.2

The TF also looked at the value of AAA screening for women in the same age group who have ever smoked, and it could not find enough evidence to make a recommendation. However, in women who have never smoked, the TF concluded that, largely due to the low prevalence of AAA, potential harms of screening outweigh its benefits.2

General screening for carotid artery stenosis is unhelpful. For asymptomatic adults, the TF gave a thumbs-down D recommendation on screening for carotid artery stenosis.3 Carotid artery screening is conducted with US, followed by, if findings indicate the need, confirmatory testing with angiography. US has reasonable sensitivity (90%) for finding the most significant lesions, but the specificity of 94% often leads to false-positive results that can bring about unnecessary surgery and serious harms, including death, stroke, and myocardial infarction. There is no evidence of any benefit from screening by auscultation of the neck.

The TF believes it is better to focus on primary prevention of stroke, including screening for hypertension and dyslipidemia, counseling on smoking cessation, encouraging healthful diet and physical activity, and recommending aspirin use for those at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.3

Focus on CVD prevention. For adults who are overweight or obese and have additional cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, the TF recommends offering, or referring patients for, intensive behavioral counseling interventions to promote a healthy diet and increased physical activity. A previous Practice Alert discussed the rationale behind this selective intensive approach to CVD prevention, as well as the lack of endorsement of vitamins to prevent CVD or cancer.4

Sexually transmitted infections

When to screen for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The TF recommends screening for chlamydial and gonorrheal infections in all sexually active women ages 24 years and younger, and for women older than 24 years who are at high risk.5 The TF could not find adequate evidence to make a recommendation for or against screening men for either disease.

The USPSTF recommends screening for chlamydial and gonorrheal infections in all sexually active women ages 24 years and younger.

Risk is defined rather broadly to include having a new sex partner, more than one sex partner, or a sex partner with concurrent partners or a sexually transmitted infection (STI); inconsistent condom use among individuals who are not in mutually monogamous relationships; having a previous or coexisting STI; and exchanging sex for money or drugs. The TF also points out that physicians should know the prevalence of these infections in their community and be aware of particular groups that are at higher risk.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most commonly reported STIs in the United States. In 2012, more than 1.4 million cases of chlamydial infection were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).5 This is an underestimate of true prevalence because most infections are asymptomatic and not detected. The rate of chlamydial infection in females was 643.3 cases per 100,000 (more than twice that seen in males—262.6 cases per 100,000), with most infections occurring in females ages 15 to 24 years.5


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Taking the mystery out of hepatitis C testing for patients

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