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by Deborah Ng
It’s easy to put off doctor visits, especially with today’s busy lifestyle. Between work, home, and kids’ schedules, it’s understandable why someone might feel the need to push an annual physical to the back burner. People who don't feel ill and have active, healthy habits might not see the need for a "wellness" visit. Also, someone who leads an unhealthy lifestyle might be embarrassed to see a doctor after so much time has passed.
Regardless of the reasons why someone might procrastinate, it’s a good idea to understand the importance of scheduling a yearly doctor visit, especially when it comes to heart health.
Why are wellness visits important for heart health?
Think of a wellness visit as preventative maintenance. Just as you would bring your car to a mechanic to make sure it’s in proper running order, you should also visit your healthcare practitioner to make sure your body is running as it should. During these visits, doctors can run tests to help to determine the presence of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which don’t always have obvious symptoms.
If left undetected, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example, may lead to more serious issues like heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. With regular wellness visits, healthcare practitioners can monitor at-risk patients and recommend lifestyle changes and/or medications that may help to keep the heart in healthy condition.
Left untreated, a small problem can turn into a serious complication.
Who needs to schedule regular doctor visits and why?
Adults should see their health care professional for a well visit once every 1-3 years, depending on their risk factors and individual health. Many people can benefit from an annual exam, but it’s especially important for people who have a family history of or are at risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. For people who are overweight or obese, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and/or smoke, seeing their health care practitioner may help put them on a healthier track by suggesting positive changes to their lifestyle. As the risk of heart disease rises with age, it's also important for people over the age of 40 to make regular doctor appointments.
What happens during the annual doctor visit?
Much of the annual physical is talking. The doctor will ask questions about your health, eating, and exercise habits, and discuss your family history in order to learn as much about you and your body as possible.
During a routine physical, the doctor checks the following:
- Height and weight: A nurse will record your height and weight to determine your body mass index or BMI. For those with a high BMI, the doctor may recommend a change in diet and exercise
- Blood pressure and heart rate:The doctor will check your blood pressure. Depending on what he or she observes they may decide to monitor more frequently or suggest more immediate changes.
- Medical history: By learning your family’s medical history, and talking to you about your current habits, the doctor may better understand your risk for certain conditions and take
- Lifestyle and symptoms: The doctor will want to know your eating and exercise habits, as well as if you smoke or drink alcohol on a regular basis.
- Heart and lungs: The doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and check for signs of abnormality.
- Bloodwork: Annual blood tests are necessary to check cholesterol and blood sugar levels, among other things.
- Additional testing: Your doctor may decide to order other tests. For example, tests to check for certain cancers, thyroid issues, or additional heart monitoring.
What happens after your physical exam?
What happens next depends on the results of your physical exam and any test results. Healthy patients will be sent on their merry way and encouraged to keep on the right track until the next year’s visit.
If there are health concerns -- for example, if it’s determined that a patient has high blood pressure or high cholesterol -- the doctor may order more testing, recommend lifestyle changes, or prescribe medications to help control those conditions. There may even be more doctor visits.
It's never too late to see your doctor. In fact, most doctors are used to seeing patients who might not be current with their appointments. Their goal is to set you on the track to good health.
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“Physical Exam Frequency.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, medline.gov/ency/article/002125.htm
“Well Visits.” Mass.gov,