If you’re waiting until you’re sick to see your doctor, you’re waiting too long.
Preventive medicine is important, and annual checkups with your primary care physician (PCP) can help you stay healthier longer. Many of the most common diseases today, including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, can be identified during regular checkups. Your physician will evaluate you for these problems at each visit, watching for subtle changes to your health such as increasing weight and blood pressure.
Age appropriate screening is also discussed at preventive visits. This may include blood work, which can identify diagnoses that commonly do not cause any symptoms early on, like pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and kidney disease. Your doctor can discuss risk factors that you may have for heart disease, stroke, and other diseases.
Screenings like mammogram and colonoscopy can help detect cancers at their earliest stages, when they are easiest to treat and beat. Patients should be asked about things like smoking and depression at annual visits, and in older populations primary care doctors are on the look-out for other issues such as cognitive changes and falls.
Vaccinations, commonly thought of as only important for children, are also addressed during preventive visits. There are several vaccines recommended during adulthood and especially after age 65 that help prevent common infections.
Many diseases can be managed early on with lifestyle changes that can stop or slow disease progression significantly. But you know that already. You also know that it’s important to stop (or never start) smoking, that it is critical to exercise and maintain a healthy weight, and that junk food is called “junk” for a reason.
If you know all that, why don’t you act on it? Because it is really hard to change habits that have been in place for years. It’s difficult to commit to long-term changes when there is no instant gratification. And it is almost impossible to sort through all of the information available regarding a “healthy lifestyle.” Let your doctor help.
Your PCP is a key component of preventive care. From lifestyle modification programs that actually work (such as smoking cessation programs) to detailed discussions about diets and realistic exercise regimes, your PCP can give you helpful tips and help you pay attention to warning signs that are specific to you.
When it comes to your health, it is better to be proactive than reactive. It’s not easy to lose weight, quit smoking or start exercising. But a yearly appointment with your physician can help. You and your PCP can work as a team to prevent trouble from starting and optimize your health. Once you’ve found a doctor you trust, go see him or her. Every year.