“Quit worrying about your health and it will go away.” –R. Orben.
How the Annual Physical focuses on your health
By: Jennifer Myszkowski, MD
An annual physical examination can be a source of reassurance that you are as healthy as you feel. You get to a chance to get to know your doctor before there is an emergency. Annual exams have their place to review your health issues, check for illness, and screen for diseases. Annual exams and the appropriate immunizations and screening tests are covered by almost all health insurance plans.
Patients who know what to expect at an annual exam are more at ease and get more out of the appointment. Annual exams usually include:
History. This is your chance to mention any complaints or concerns about your health. Your doctor will also likely quiz you about lifestyle behaviors like smoking, alcohol and drug use, sexual health, diet, and exercise. Questions to check for depression are reviewed. The doctor will also check on your vaccination status and update your personal and family medical history.
• 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 rate: Values between 60 and 100 are considered normal, although many healthy people have heart rates slower than 60.
•Height and weight to calculate the body mass index. Your body mass index determines which screening tests are right for you.
General Appearance. Your doctor gathers a large amount of information about you and your health just by watching and talking to you. How is your memory and mental quickness? Does your skin appear healthy? Can you easily stand and walk?
Heart Exam. Listening to your heart with a stethoscope, a doctor might detect an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur, or other clues to heart disease.
Lung Exam. Using a stethoscope, a doctor listens for clues to the presence of heart or lung disease.
Head and Neck Exam. Opening up and saying "ah" shows off your throat and tonsils. The quality of your teeth and gums also provides information about your overall health.
Abdominal Exam. Palpating for tenderness and abnormal masses can signal disease in the abdomen.
Dermatological Exam. The skin is checked for changes from skin cancers.
Extremities Exam. Pulses can be checked in your arms and legs.
Men: Your annual physical exam might include:
• Hernia exam: The famous "turn your head and cough" checks for a weakness in the abdominal wall between the intestines and scrotum.
• Prostate exam: Screening for prostate cancer should be discussed with your physician
Women: Your annual exam might include:
• Breast exam. Feeling for abnormal lumps may detect breast cancer or benign breast conditions. The doctor will also check the lymph nodes in the underarm area and look for visual abnormalities of the breasts and nipples.
•Pelvic exam: Screening for cervical cancer is every 3-5 years depending on your age and starts at age 21.
For those with Medicare: Medicare will cover a yearly “wellness exam.” This is a very specific visit and is not like the yearly physical you were used to before you had Medicare insurance. This visit must be scheduled as a “Medicare wellness exam.” You will not get to talk about your health concerns, rather your history will be reviewed and updated. Any Medicare covered test or screening test will be ordered if it is right for you.
For children and teens: A lot of the yearly exam is focused on education and prevention. Immunizations are also very important in preventing illness and cancer. Your exercise recommendations are much more than for adults. Learning about good health habits now will prevent problems later in life.
Laboratory Tests: There are no standard laboratory tests during an annual physical. Your physician will decide which tests are needed for you and how often. Blood tests can check your risk of heart disease or look for diabetes or prediabetes. Everybody should be screened for the HIV virus at least once and baby boomers should be screened for Hepatitis C.
Annual Physicals Emphasize Prevention
The annual physical exam is a great opportunity to refocus your attention on prevention and screening:
•At age 50, it's time to begin regular screening for colorectal cancer or other risk factors. People with immediate family members with colorectal cancer may need to be screened before age 50. You and your doctor will determine if aspirin is needed to prevent heart disease.
•For some women, age 40 marks the time to begin annual mammogram screening for breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about possible benefits and risks to starting mammography before age 50. If you can become pregnant, folic acid supplements prevent birth defects. Once you are 65, bone density tests are recommended to check for osteoporosis.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you sow” –Robert Louis Stevenson
Healthy behaviors work far better than medicine at preventing illness, and don't require a prescription:
•Do 30 minutes of brisk walking or other exercise most days of the week (or about 150 minutes a week). And add in some strength training at least twice a week. Your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and some types of cancer will fall dramatically.
•Eat a mostly plant-based diet, low in animal fats.
•Learn stress management techniques to help you cope better with life stressors.
•Above all, don't smoke.
Call the Richland Medical Center today to schedule your annual physical so you can worry less and live well. Starting from April 1st until August 12th, for kids 11-18, if you call to schedule your annual physical you will be entered into a drawing for an Amazon Fire Tablet HD 8, and you also will get your WIAA paperwork completed before sports practices start!
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.