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Time to schedule your check up

How long has it been since you’ve been to the doctor for a wellness checkup. Most of us (mostly men) only go see the doctor if there is something absolutely wrong and we can’t avoid it any longer. But the advantages of seeing the doctor for a checkup when you feel good may help you out in the long-run.

We’re all familiar with the normal questions your doctor will ask about our lifestyle: smoking and drinking habits, caffeine intake, exercise habits, diet, and sexual activity. He will also update your vaccine records and administer those that need updating. A review of your family medical history will also be conducted to see if there is any change in a family member’s health.

If you know we are living a healthy lifestyle, why see your doctor for preventative care?

It’s included in your health insurance. The premium you pay every month for health insurance includes one well check-up per year.

Blood pressure screening. High blood pressure is also known as the silent killer. Even seemingly healthy people can have high blood pressure. Less than 120 over 80 is a normal blood pressure. Doctors define high blood pressure (hypertension) as 140 over 90 or higher.

Heart and respiratory rate: Heart rate values between 60 and 100 are considered normal. Many healthy people have heart rates slower than 60, however. Doctors can also detect an irregular heartbeat, heart murmurs or other indicators of heart disease. An exam will also check your breathing. Twelve to 16 breaths per minute is normal for a healthy adult. But breathing more than 20 times per minute (while resting) can suggest heart or lung problems.

Cholesterol screening. A lipid panel, also known as a cholesterol test is recommended every four – six years, according to the American Heart Association. Your doctor might check more frequently if you have risk factors for heart disease. Abnormal cholesterol level increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

HIV screening. The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Learn the risk factors for HIV.

Diabetes (Type 2) Screening. According to the American Diabetes Association, all patients should be screened for diabetes at three-year intervals beginning at age 45, especially people who are overweight or obese. If multiple risk factors are present, screening should be done at an earlier age and more frequently. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults with high blood pressure or high cholesterol be screened for type 2 diabetes (insulin-resistant diabetes) in an effort to reduce cardiovascular disease.

Obesity Screening. Part of your check up will include getting your height and weight to determine your body mass index (BMI). BMIs of 30 or above are termed obese. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight. Normal BMIs are 18.5 to 24.9.

Colorectal cancer. At age 50, it’s time to begin regular screening for colorectal cancer. If you have an immediate family member with colorectal cancer or other risk factors you may need to be screened before age 50.

For obvious physiological reasons women and men each have their own unique sets of recommended tests as part of their annual physicals.

For women, breast cancer mammography, cervical cancer screening, and the human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA Test are recommended.

For some women, age 40 marks the time to begin annual mammography screening for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start mammograms if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, while women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or can continue yearly screening.

Screening for cervical cancer is recommended for women age 21 to 65 years with cytology (Pap smear) every 3 years or, for women age 30 to 65 years who want to lengthen the screening interval.

The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with HPV. Doctors can now test for the HPV (high-risk or carcinogenic types) that are most likely to cause cervical cancer by looking for pieces of their DNA in cervical cells. The test can be done at the same time as the Pap test, with the same swab or a second swab. You won’t notice a difference in your exam if you have both tests.

For men, their annual exam may include testicular exam, a penis and prostate exam,  and a hernia exam.

In a testicular exam, a doctor can check each testicle for lumps, tenderness or changes in size. Most men with testicular cancer notice a growth before seeing their doctor. A doctor will also check a man’s penis for evidence of sexually transmitted infections such as warts or ulcers. The prostate is also examined by feeling the prostate (via the rectum) for its size and any suspicious areas.

During a hernia exam, doctors check for weakness in the abdominal wall between the intestines and scrotum.

During routine exams for both men and women, your doctor can gather information from you based on your general appearance by watching and talking to you. They can assess how healthy your skin appears, how is your memory serving you, and if you can stand and walk easily.

Doctors will also look at your throat, and tonsils, check the quality of your teeth and gums, and your ears, nose, eyes, lymph nodes and thyroid for any unusual signs.

An abdominal exam can detect the size of your liver, presence of abdominal fluid, and listening to bowel sounds. This exam also checks the tenderness of your abdomen.

Reflexes and joint health are also assessed during any annual exam to check for abnormalities.

Want to avoid the doctor for being sick? Healthy behavior like regular exercise, healthy eating and not smoking are the best prescription for preventing illnesses.

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