As the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” which is true for your annual physical exam as well. Most of the common medical problems don’t present with any symptoms until after a serious event occurs; like a heart attack, stroke, or complications from diabetes. If your blood pressure gradually increases, you may not notice it, but having high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for having a stroke. Similarly, high cholesterol and heart disease may not develop any symptoms until you have chest pain when blood flow to the heart has reduced to a critical point. Diabetes, which can cause increased thirst and urination, is sometimes not found until a complication develops and the sugar level is checked. Unlike an injury that causes pain, these common medical problems sometimes don’t have any warning symptoms, which is why getting an annual check-up is so
Preventative medicine, or having an annual medical checkup may help reduce the development of these serious problems. During an annual check-up, vital signs such as blood pressure, body mass index, and heart rate are checked, a physical exam is done, and most of the time screening labs as well. Based on your medical history and age, certain vaccines may be recommended. If you’ve had chickenpox, then you’re at risk of developing shingles. One of the newer vaccines indicated for adults 50 years and older, called Shingrix, has recently become available as another option to help prevent this painful skin rash. A tetanus shot should be done every 10 years unless you plan on having a baby or will be around a newborn, then the Tdap which is the tetanus shot plus the pertussis vaccine should be provided as a booster. Other adult vaccines, such as the pneumonia vaccine, which is normally provided at age 65 unless there is a medical problem that requires it earlier, would also be reviewed during your annual preventative visit.
Along with the common medical problems that may not have any warning signs until a significant event occurs, cancer can also develop without any symptoms. Breast cancer, colon cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer each have recommended screening tests based on age, gender, family history and if you smoke or have a history of smoking. Your unique family history should also be considered to help decide if any extra testing should be done. Another important part of our health is our diet and exercise. The general guidelines include a balanced diet and moderate physical activity 150 minutes a week plus 75 minutes of vigorous activity. However, each one of us is different and may require a modified activity level or a certain diet based on the results of your physical exam. The time is now to focus on an ounce of prevention and schedule your annual medical check up!
Gary Visser, MD, FAAFP
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