By Jan Sheehan
About two-thirds of physicians and patients believe adults should have an annual checkup, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). The annual checkup serves a number of functions that might help improve health and maintain wellness. Here are five important reasons to have an annual exam.
Routine screenings, such as cholesterol and diabetes tests, pap smears and breast exams, can detect signs of diseases at their earliest and most treatable stages. “Early diagnosis of cancer and heart disease is especially important,” says Patrick Dowling, M.D., chair of family medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Some diseases, such as colon cancer, can even be prevented with screenings. The annual exam is also the time to get any recommended immunizations, such as the one-time shingles vaccine for people 60 and older, Dowling says.
Blood pressure and resting heart rate are always taken at the annual checkup. A full checkup should also include measuring weight and height, says Dowling. Taking these measurements yearly sets a baseline so you’ll know if anything changed in the last year. The American Heart Association states that elevated blood pressure over time is a heart disease risk. A weak or slow pulse could be a sign of heart disease or another health problem, says Dowling. If you’ve lost or gained significant weight without trying, that could signal a possible health problem that should be investigated. Height loss could mean an acceleration of osteoporosis if you’re 60 or older.
The annual exam is an opportunity to receive counseling from your doctor on weight management, smoking cessation, sexuality, alcohol consumption and other health issues. Your doctor might talk to you about risk factors and preventive measures you can take to avoid diseases. “Even if you’re feeling fine, there may be issues you’d like to discuss with your doctor” says Dowling. The annual exam is also an opportunity to talk to your doctor about emotional problems that might require treatment, such as depression.
Medical Records Update
Your clinical data will be updated during your annual exam. It’s important to have an accurate record of past illnesses, laboratory tests, immunizations and prescribed medications to assist doctors in treating you in case you’re involved in an accident or have a serious illness. Tell your doctor if any immediate family members have become seriously ill or if there have been deaths in your family from disease in the past year. An accurate family medical history can help detect genetic patterns that might put you at a higher than normal risk of disease.
Knowing your health status by having an annual exam can give you peace of mind. “The annual exam is something many patients insist on so they know they have a clean bill of health” says Dowling.