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Medical Exams You’ll Need to Stay Healthy

By Brittany Gatson, BDO

This year you mean it, you tell yourself — you’re going to commit to making lifestyle changes to improve your well-being. If you want to stay in good health, you can start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor for a complete health check. That way, you’ll know what to work on this year.

The Importance of Health Check-Ups

Think of health check-ups as a way to prevent disease. Prevention occurs before you have signs and symptoms. Physical exams can identify risk factors and help ward off the development of a possible lifelong chronic illness.

Another reason to have a medical exam is for your doctor to pinpoint where you can improve your habits. Your doctor can serve as your coach and help you stay on the path to good health. Doctors can also offer screening tests to help detect any health problems early on and start you on treatment.

What to Expect at a Physical Exam Appointment

The frequency with which you visit your doctor for a physical exam will vary depending on your age, sex, and medical history. Your physical exam may involve blood work, or it may just be a conversation between you and your doctor to talk about your risk factors, family medical history, and overall health status.

By age 19 everyone should establish a relationship with a health practitioner, one that can translate into years of good health. Body mass index (BMI) screening and blood pressure checks are essentials for everyone and you shouldn’t go for long stretches of five or 10 years without them. Every two years is a good standard for most young, healthy individuals  to get a basic physical exam that includes these screenings.

A regular medical exam with your doctor — now called a “health appraisal” rather than a physical exam — is also an opportunity to evaluate your mental health, giving your doctor the opportunity to spot any signs of depression, which can then be treated and managed.

Health Check-Ups for Women

Women simply can’t skip their mammograms. At age 40, women need a mammogram every one to two years; at age 50, the screening should be done annually. Women with a family history need earlier and sometimes more frequent screening.

Check-ups for women between the ages of 18 and 39 should include:

  •     Cholesterol screening
  •     Blood pressure check
  •     BMI check
  •     Pelvic exam
  •     Pap smear
  •     Immunizations
  •     Vision and dental check-ups

Women between the ages of 40 and 64 may also need:

  •     Screening tests for colon cancer (usually starting at age 50)
  •     Screening test for osteoporosis, called a bone density scan

Any woman who is postmenopausal and had a fracture needs a bone density scan to screen for osteoporosis. Women with risk factors for osteoporosis (including smoking, a slim build, and insufficient calcium intake) should be screened earlier than age 65.

Colorectal screening is a must starting at age 50 for men and women. But if you have a positive family history of colon cancer, you will start at age 40. Women over 65 need all of these screenings, check-ups, and immunizations, but the frequency may change as they age.

Health Check-Ups for Men

It’s important for men to speak with their doctors about prostate checks. Starting at age 50, most men need a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal exam to check for prostate cancer. Men at greater risk, including African-American men and any man with a family history of prostate cancer, generally need screenings by the age of 45.

Check-ups for men between the ages of 18 and 39 should include:

  •     Cholesterol and blood pressure check
  •     Vision and dental exam
  •     Immunizations

Men between the ages of 40 and 64 may also need:

  •     Screening tests for colon cancer (usually starting at age 50)
  •     Screening tests for osteoporosis, called a bone density scan

When it comes to osteoporosis screening, any man between the ages of 50 and 70 with risk factors for osteoporosis should have a conversation with his doctor about getting a bone density test. Men over 65 still need these check-ups, but sometimes at different intervals, particularly as health conditions and symptoms arise.

Doing Your Homework

In terms of medical check-ups the most important thing for people to realize is that 90 percent of staying well has nothing to do with doctors or medical offices but instead with maintaining healthy habits. That means exercising more, eating healthier foods, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol.

Your doctor is a great resource to help you map out your action plan for good health. So schedule a physical exam and team up to tackle any health problems to enjoy a successful 2011.

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