Think back to your last doctor’s visit. Did it happen over a year ago? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Relatively few Americans have a close relationship with a primary care physician, and even fewer see one for an annual physical exam. This growing trend worries health experts because the costs of deferred preventive care are staggering: $240 billion per year in treatment costs for preventable diseases like tobacco-related cancers, Type II diabetes and strokes. Getting in the habit of seeing your doctor every year is crucial to your long-term health, and it’s less painful than you might think.
Simple health tests can go a long way toward preventing serious complications down the road. As you age, your doctor will watch your cholesterol and blood pressure more closely, augmenting these major screenings with blood tests for anemia and tuberculosis. If you’re predisposed to cardiovascular disease, you may need to get semi-annual blood pressure screenings from age 35 onwards. You’ll also need annual vision and hearing checks, both of which are crucial to the early detection of stroke and hypertension.
Remember all those shots you got as a kid? You won’t need as many at your annual adult physical, but booster shots are occasionally necessary. Every adult with a pulse needs a tetanus booster every ten years, and if you work with animals or sick people, you may need job-specific vaccines for hepatitis B, rabies, or anthrax. Your doctor may also perform annual depression screenings, which thankfully aren’t physically invasive. These are based on your answers to simple and confidential questions.
As a woman, your annual gynecological exam will cover a few important bases. Once you’ve been sexually active for a few years, you’ll want to get regular Pap smears and a thorough reproductive health screening. You should begin getting annual mammograms by age 40, and if there’s a history of cancer in your family your doctor may recommend regular screenings even earlier. Breast exams and other tests remain important even after menopause, so get used to booking regular visits to the gynecologist’s office.
Reproductive health isn’t a central concern if you’re a guy, but testicular, prostate and colon cancers sure are. The former is the leading cause of death in otherwise healthy young men, while the latter two affect mature gentlemen without much regard for family history. Your annual prostate exam and colonoscopy will become second nature by age 50. More tolerable screenings for cholesterol and high blood pressure begin even younger, in many cases at the tender age of 30.
An Ounce of Prevention
You might leave the doctor’s office with the queasy sticker-shock feeling that arises from paying for something whose worth you don’t understand, but rest assured you’re getting what you paid for. If you end up in the emergency room with a condition that could have been caught during an annual check-up, you’re inadvertently contributing to the problem of insurance-premium growth across the board. By scheduling an annual adult check-up and dropping some key unhealthy habits, you may be able to not only reduce your medical costs, but maintain your precious good health.