Everyone should visit their doctor for a yearly checkup. This gives your doctor the opportunity to monitor your overall health and will give them a point of reference later should a new health issue appear. This annual physical exam is especially important for seniors, who generally have more health concerns and may need more monitoring.
Are annual physicals really necessary when nothing seems wrong? We have often seen that an annual physical can be a lifesaver. Many tests may be given during an annual physical. You may ask your doctor some important questions:
- Can having a certain test, or not having it, change the quality of your life?
- What is the cost with or without insurance?
- When will you get the results?
Understanding exactly what an annual physical does and doesn’t provide is perhaps the biggest question when having the exam.
For seniors, there a number of routine tests that help maintain and monitor their health. Blood pressure, height and weight should be checked during every doctor’s visit including your annual physical. This is for charting any changes and because a large drop in weight and height may be a sign of the beginning of a serious condition. Blood work should be done every year and the tests that are run from these samples will vary from person to person. All blood work should include a blood count, glucose tests, thyroid tests, and any other tests that will check for conditions relating to your family and medical history.
These are the most common tests during an annual exam:
Blood pressure. Used to detect hypertension or high blood pressure. Should be tested more frequently for those with readings of 130/85 or higher.
Pap smear. Used for early detection of cervical cancer. Some professionals advise that women who have never received an abnormal reading can stop being screened after she turns 65.
Colorectal cancer screening. Digital rectal exam and X-ray with barium enema may also be done. Medicare now pays for colonoscopy.
Prostate cancer screening. Including a prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test, and digital rectal exam. Usefulness of PSA screening for all men remains controversial.
Diabetes screening. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, obese people, and those with a strong family history of diabetes need more frequent screenings, beginning at age 30.
Cholesterol. These tests are frequently done in along with a routine physical exam. It is usually ordered in combination with other tests including HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglycerides — often called a lipid profile.
Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat chemical compound, that is produced in the liver from fatty foods that we eat. The body produces cholesterol to provide the body's cells with the needed fluidity and flexibility to proper function. It is also one of many substances needed to create several of the body's essential hormones. The buildup of cholesterol is known as plaque once it begins to line your arteries and blood vessels. A poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to increased levels of cholesterol and lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious medical conditions. You need the right amount of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) for your body to function properly.
Cholesterol is tested at more frequent intervals, often several times per year, in patients who have been prescribed diet and/or drugs to lower their cholesterol. The test is used to track how well these measures are succeeding in lowering cholesterol to desired levels and in turn lowering the risk of developing heart disease.
Cholesterol testing may be ordered more frequently for those who have one or more risk factors for heart disease. Major risk factors include:
Age men 45 years or older or women 55 years or older
Smoking: You smoke or are exposed daily to secondhand smoke.
Pre-existing heart disease or already having had a heart attack
Family history: You have a father, brother, or son who has had heart disease before age 55, or a mother, sister, or daughter with heart disease before age 65.
High blood pressure: Your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher.
HDL cholesterol: Your HDL blood cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL.
Diabetes: Your fasting blood glucose is 126 mg/dL or higher
Some drugs that are known to increase cholesterol levels include anabolic steroids, beta blockers, epinephrine, oral contraceptives, and vitamin D.
Before you arrive for your appointment, it’s a good idea to bring these:
- List of medications you take, including over the counter medicine, vitamins and supplements
- List of questions and concerns
- Money for co-pay and insurance cards including Medicare and Medicaid
- Pen or pencil for taking notes
- A companion to help you listen and follow up
- Prescriptions that need to be refilled
Annual physicals are important for your overall well being. Schedule one soon, and do it for the ones who love you.
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