Doll undergoing medical tests
Photo: Adam Voorhes
"Is this test really necessary?" That's the question every woman should ask at her next doctor's visit. According to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 28 percent of primary care physicians admit to overtreating patients, including by ordering potentially unwarranted tests as a precaution against malpractice suits. Unfortunately, excessive screening can open the door to unnecessary surgeries and medications—not to mention needless anxiety. Here, four tests to reconsider.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

The purpose: Detecting heart abnormalities that can indicate cardiovascular disease

Why you might want to skip it: If you're in good health with few risk factors for heart disease—older age, high blood pressure, a history of smoking, a sedentary lifestyle—there's no evidence that an ECG will reduce your risk of having a heart attack, according to the 2012 recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). You're also more likely to get a false positive, which can lead to follow-up testing and even surgery—such as an angioplasty—you don't need.

You could be better off... lowering your risk for heart disease, says Michael LeFevre, MD, co–vice chair of the USPSTF, by managing your blood pressure, quitting smoking, losing weight, and exercising regularly.

Upper endoscopy

(in which a tube equipped with a camera is inserted into the upper digestive system)

The purpose: Diagnosing conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Why you might want to skip it: "The treatment for GERD—which can include proton pump inhibitors [drugs that reduce stomach acid]—is the same whether you're diagnosed based on an endoscopy or on your symptoms, like heartburn, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing," says Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, director of clinical policy at the American College of Physicians. "Any invasive procedure carries the risk of complications. In this case, your gastrointestinal tract could be perforated during the exam."

You could be better off... trying proton pump inhibitors for four to eight weeks, says Qaseem. If your pain persists, an endoscopy can rule out more serious but rare conditions that might lead to esophageal cancer.

Next: Do you really need that MRI?