Some people are fairly conscientious about making regular appointments to visit their doctor, although most people aren’t quite that regular, and find it very easy to procrastinate until years end up passing. No one likes to hear bad news, especially when it comes to their health, but the consequences of not seeing your doctor regularly can sometimes be quite severe.
Frequency of visits
The most important factors in determining how often you should visit your doctor are your age and your risk for contracting disease. Here are some guidelines:
- 30 or younger and healthy: every two to three years for a checkup. Disease prevention and healthy lifestyles should be discussed with a doctor. Young people may benefit from receiving certain vaccines, especially if travelling internationally. Women should discuss the benefits of regular cervical cancer screening.
- Ages 30-40: most people should be getting an annual physical. Common diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, often do not cause symptoms and can sometimes be detected early by a doctor. At age 40, women should begin discussing the benefits of regular breast cancer screening with a doctor.
- 50+: annual physicals become much more important, and both men and women should have colonoscopies performed to screen for colon cancer. Women 50 and over should discuss benefits of regular mammograms with a doctor. People 65 and older are at higher risk for illness and hospitalization from flu and pneumonia. They should discuss the benefits of receiving pneumococcal vaccines and regular influenza vaccines with a doctor.
For people who are overweight, or for whom there is a family history of some type of disease, checkups should occur more frequently, at the advice of your doctor. During these visits, you should see your family physician, because he/she will have established a history with you, and will know your health situation better than anyone else.
Early bird catches the worm
When you have regular medical checkups, there’s a much greater chance of discovering any health issues than if you were to rely on discovering them at home. Doctors are trained to observe symptoms, and to know what causes those symptoms, so early detection gives you a much better chance of overcoming a health problem or disease, because it’s caught in its early stages.
Early detection leads to another benefit, which is far less expensive medical treatment. Whether you’re paying for health costs out-of-pocket, or you have a good insurance package, the cost of prevention and early detection is far less than the cost of treating a disease or any kind of significant health issue.
Also, since you’ve formed a good relationship with your family doctor, you can be advised on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, and how to avoid those things which are hazardous to your health. This is especially important when you have an existing medical condition, and your doctor can provide sound advice on how to manage it, and hopefully overcome it as well.
What should be included in a check-up
There are some standard physical examinations which should always be included in your checkup, however frequently you have that done. For starters, you should have your temperature, height, weight, pulse rate and blood pressure measured, so they can be compared to the same values at prior times of your life.
Your physician will want to listen to your heart and lungs, and probably also take a good look at your skin for any signs of skin cancer. Some women should be screened for cervical cancer with a Pap smear on a regular basis. Men and women over 50 should be screened for colon cancer.
In addition to the physical checks, there should be a good discussion between doctor and patient about any concerning symptoms, recent illnesses, medications, and ingestion of drugs or alcohol. If it hasn’t already happened, there should also be a discussion about any family history of illness, and any current illnesses in the family.
Your doctor may recommend blood tests to screen certain diseases, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Abnormal symptoms or physical examinations may require evaluation with additional studies to appropriately diagnose medical conditions you may not be aware of.
If there is a time better than any other to get your checkup done, it might be during the fall. At that time, flu shots become available, and if you are so inclined, you can then get your flu shot to protect against winter strains of influenza.
Dr. Clifford Medina
Chief, General Medicine