Everyone knows it’s important to go to the doctor when you’re sick, but it’s just as important to see the doctor at least once a year even if you feel good. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until the final stages, and early diagnosis can be a lifesaver.
When you have a packed schedule of work and family, your own needs sometimes get pushed to the back burner. But you can’t take care of everything that you need to if you’re not healthy. The following preventive health screenings are important to help your doctor detect disease in its earliest stages and treat it effectively.
The Annual Physical
An annual physical exam is one of the best measures you can take to keep healthy.
The first steps in a physical involve stepping on the weight scale, giving a urine sample, and getting your blood pressure checked and pulse taken. If you’re overweight or obese, your doctor reviews the many risks associated with obesity, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, to name a few, and provides recommendations for weight reduction. If your blood pressure is consistently high, your doctor will likely put you on medication; high blood pressure can lead to heart disease or a stroke.
Next, a Doctors First physician examines you from head to toe — looking at your eyes, ears, nose, throat, and feeling your neck to check for thyroid nodules. If you have a nodule, your doctor can order tests to determine if it’s cancerous.
The doctor checks your lungs by listening to your breathing; if he or she suspects an abnormality, you’ll get a chest X-ray. If you’ve been a heavy smoker, he or she may send you for an LDCT, or low-dose computer tomography test that can detect lung cancer at early stages.
Your doctor feels your abdomen to determine if there’s any swelling in the intestines and performs a rectal exam to check for an enlarged prostate in men and any suspicious lumps in the anal area in both men and women.
You’ll normally have a blood test, which reveals whether your internal organs such as your kidneys and liver are functioning normally. A blood test also determines your cholesterol level; high cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or coronary heart disease. A statin drug can lower your cholesterol if you haven’t been successful in lowering it through dieting.
These are just a few examples of why the annual exam is your most important appointment all year long.
If You’re Over 50: Colonoscopy
When you turn 50, your doctor refers you to a gastroenterologist who performs a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies save lives because they enable doctors to detect and remove precancerous or cancerous polyps and other growths. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you’ll receive your first screening at around 40 instead.
For Women: Annual Gynecological Checkups
Your annual gynecological exam ensures that your reproductive organs are healthy. A pelvic exam determines if there are ovarian cysts and fibroids in your uterus — conditions that can interfere with fertility. Your gynecologist also performs a Pap smear, which tests for cervical cancer and other abnormalities.
The doctor performs a breast exam to see if you have any suspicious lumps and might give you a referral for a mammogram. The National Institutes of Health recommends all women have a gynecological exam every one to three years, depending on sexual activity and risk.
For Women: Mammograms
Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that can detect cancerous tumors. Breast cancer may have no symptoms that you can detect on your own — that’s why mammograms are so important. This cancer is much more treatable when it’s detected early.
Your first annual screening normally takes place when you’re about 40 years old.
For Women: Bone Density Test
At age 65, your doctor will likely recommend getting a baseline bone density test, which screens for osteoporosis, or loss of bone. It’s a simple X-ray. If you have the beginnings of osteoporosis, your doctor recommends medication to help build up bone but also emphasizes the importance of weight-bearing exercises to deter its progression.
For Men: Prostate Exam
Your doctor will start performing prostate exams when you turn 40. If he or she feels any abnormality, or if you have other symptoms such as frequent urination, you’ll likely get a blood test called a PSA which can help determine if cancer is present.
Do you get your flu shot annually? Flu symptoms are usually much worse in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
If you’re over 65, your doctor may recommend the pneumonia or pneumococcal vaccine. If severe, pneumonia can lead to meningitis and other serious complications. It’s better to be protected from this lung infection.
It’s also important to have a tetanus shot every ten years. If you have a puncture wound from a rusty nail or other similar object and haven’t had a shot in five years, you should go to the emergency room within 24 hours to get the booster shot.
All of the steps above will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. Call or book an appointment with Doctors First in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to help you maintain optimal health.