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Many healthy individuals will ask why waste the time, money, or energy on going to see a doctor when nothing appears to be wrong. If you feel great, then you don’t necessarily need to get a full examination every year. However, you may want to join the estimated 44 million people who do get them each year, and here is why (1). An annual exam is a low cost investment into your future health span.
Here are some of the benefits of getting an annual exam. You can establish a relationship with a medical professional, so they can be your first line of defense when something goes wrong. Before, during, or after your appointment, you have the opportunity to ask about any serious or non-serious health related issues. A trained professional can perform a physical examination to identify any areas of concern. You can receive diagnostic tests and health screenings to provide you with an evaluation of your current overall health. These screenings could catch possible health concerns early, allowing for more effective and cost efficient treatment. Many individuals have undiagnosed high cholesterol, high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer, and/or kidney disease that can be caught earlier with proper screening (2). Lastly, a yearly exam can give you and your loved ones the peace of mind that you are in fact healthy (3).
When you’re ready to get your next screening, be sure to ask the following five questions.
#1: What changes to my lifestyle can I make to improve my overall health and well-being?
Before your appointment, take a moment to consider any questions you have for the medical practitioner. Ask yourself how each of your body parts are feeling: head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, neck, shoulders, back, stomach, arms, hands, fingers, hips, thighs, knees, shins, ankles, feet, and toes. Ask yourself how your internal organs feel: brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach, bowels, and sex organs. Ask yourself how you could improve your lifestyle through diet, exercise, sleep or stress. Make sure you actually disclose anything that is bothering you or ask your healthcare practitioner about how you can improve your overall health. Your doctor isn’t there to judge you in any way. They’re there to help you.
#2: What should I get screened for?
This is a highly individualized question since your age, gender, and your medical history can greatly vary your priorities. To narrow down your inquiries, you should first ask yourself about any underlying health concerns that you or your family members have, in order to get properly screened. Here is an noncomprehensive list that you may want to ask your physician about: lipid testing for cholesterol levels, hemoglobin A1c for diabetes, basic blood count to check red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin, colonoscopy check for abnormalities in the large intestine, colon, and rectum, pap test screening for cervical cancer, mammogram screening for breast cancer, iron and ferritin test for anemia, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test for a functioning metabolism, basic metabolic panel for kidney and liver function as well as electrolytes levels, urinalysis to check for diabetes, urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
#3: What additional tests should I take to optimize my health-span or athletic performance?
There are plenty of additional tests that you may want to ask for if it's appropriate for you. A comprehensive cardiac assessment can include an electrocardiogram or treadmill stress test to evaluate the strength and durability of your heart for both health and aerobic fitness (4). A complete lipid panel can provide you with your total cholesterol, hdl, ldl, triglycerides, and/or c-reactive protein to evaluate how your body is storing and using fat (5). Additional fitness assessments can include visceral fat analysis, muscle mass evaluation, DEXA bone density scanning, micronutrient vitamin testing, food sensitivity testing, resting metabolic rate testing, genomic fitness profiling, or home sleep apnea testing, all to further optimize your athletic performance.
#4: What should I expect during this physical?
The medical facility should start with taking your vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and your body mass index (height & weight). The doctor should review your medical history with you. Then, the doctor should observe your eyes, ears, nose, and throat for any concerns. The doctor should feel your body for any lumps or abnormalities. The doctor should listen to your heart and lungs using a stethoscope. The doctor should allow you to ask questions about anything you are concerned or curious about (6). If you are already on medication, make sure to ask if your prescription is still relevant. Ask if your dose is the optimal amount. Ask if that drug is still the most effective on the market. Ask if there are any new drugs or drug alternatives that could be more beneficial.
#5: What Are My Numbers?
After your visit, you should be contacted by the medical facility with all of your medical information, which should include your vitals as well as your test results. Make sure to call, email, text, or chat with your doctor to understand what your numbers mean for you. For example, if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and/or high blood sugar, it can indicate an increase of risk for developing conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and/or diabetes. After you get your explanation, ask for next steps.
An annual physical exam is an important step for staying healthy, by addressing future health risks and maintaining a vibrant lifestyle through proper exercise, nutrition, supplementation, and sleep. Make sure you ask the above questions to stay on top of your health and keep your body functioning its best.