I Feel Great! Why Should I See a Doctor?
It may sound strange, but one of the best times to start seeing a doctor is when there’s nothing wrong with you. This becomes even more important as you move out of your care-free 20s and into your 30s and beyond.
As you get older, routine checkups with your doctor can be key to a long and healthy life.
Why? Because those checkups often can catch problems long before you notice any symptoms. That’s particularly true with silent diseases like diabetes and hypertension. They also help your doctor offer guidance on tests and screenings that might be warranted, based on your age and unique family medical history.
Establishing a Baseline
By getting into your doctor’s office before the arrival of inevitable health problems, you can establish a baseline that can be tracked as you get older.
A physical exam offers what is essentially a snapshot of your current health. A series of these snapshots over time will make it easier to track changes as they occur. That helps you and your doctor fine-tune your diet, exercise and medications to increase your odds of avoiding some preventable diseases, including diabetes, obesity and cancer.
The frequency of your follow-up visits will vary, based on your own situation and symptoms. For the healthiest of patients – particularly those who’d rather not see the doctor – a visit every other year may be adequate. For people of average health, an annual checkup is ideal. But if you have ongoing health conditions, it’s better to have three- to six-month checkups, particularly if you’re on medications that require more frequent monitoring of kidney and liver functions.
The physical exam will start with what might be the most important aspect of your visit. In just a few minutes, your vital signs will be measured and recorded. These can offer a quick look at some of the most important outward displays of your body’s health and provide a warning that something is amiss. These signs include:
- Body temperature. The normal temperature will fall in the range of 97.8 to 99 degrees. One degree or more over that normal rate indicates a fever, while a temperature below 95 is hypothermia.
- Pulse rate. This measurement of your heart rate is typically in the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Females over the age of 12 tend to have faster heart rates than males. Changes in the pulse rate can be caused by exercise, illness, injury and emotions.
- Respiration rate. This is the number of breaths you take in a minute. For adults, this is typically 12 to 20 breaths. Rates may be higher because of exercise, illness or injury.
- Blood pressure. This measures the force of the blood pumping through your body. Normal is a systolic/diastolic rate of less than 120/80. You are considered to have high blood pressure if systolic tops 130 or diastolic rises above 80.
- Body mass index (BMI). While not considered one of the four traditional vital signs, this measurement (calculated using a person’s height and weight) is important. A BMI over 30 means you are obese, and at much greater risk for a number of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
Creating a Health Picture
During the rest of your exam, which should take 30 minutes to an hour, you will be checked over from head to toe. Your doctor will look at your eyes, ears, throat and lymph nodes. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and will check the sensations in your hands and feet.
Routine blood work may be ordered to take a peek at things like cholesterol and blood sugar levels – either of which could indicate potential problems.
You should also expect detailed questions about your medical history and your family’s medical history. This can help guide decisions on if or when to get screened for cancers and other diseases that have a known genetic component.
As you age, the content of your exams may change. You will get more questionnaires to fill out. Eventually, cognitive tests will enter the equation, along with tests to monitor your gait and stability.
Your doctor also will keep track of your various immunizations and recommended screenings for colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Think of these steps as a way to help you live the longest and healthiest life possible.
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