If you pay attention to your body, you know when something just doesn’t feel right.
That’s why self-breast exams or mole checks at home are important, especially if you have a family history of certain cancers.
But there are some things you can’t catch on your own. You might be dangerously close to becoming diabetic, or your shortness of breath could signal heart problems.
That’s why it’s important to have an annual medical examination. Yearly wellness check-ins with your doctor can help prevent serious health problems by catching them at an early stage, said Dr. Heidi Sharp, a family physician at St. Elizabeth’s Cold Spring location.
Annual exams last from about 30 minutes to an hour, and include a head-to-toe check. During a wellness exam, your doctor will run blood tests, check your weight, pulse and other vitals. She’ll also talk to you about any immunizations or boosters you might need.
“People will say ‘I feel good, and I haven’t seen a doctor in 10 or 20 years.’ It’s great that they feel good, but, with blood work, we are able to find things before they get to a critical point,” Dr. Sharp said.
A wellness check could uncover unhealthy cholesterol or blood sugar levels, or skin abnormalities. During your visit, your doctor can refer you for other screening tests such as mammograms or colonoscopies.
An annual wellness check also gives you and your doctor a chance to talk about any nagging health concerns. You can update her on any changes in family medical history that could also impact your personal health, Dr. Sharp said.
“[For example,] if you have a mother or father diagnosed with colon cancer at age 50, then you’ll have to have a colonoscopy earlier than typically recommended for the general population,” she said.
To get the most out of these exams, Dr. Sharp recommends that her patients come in with prepared questions.
“Write down the name of outside specialists you’ve seen or any immediate family members who have had a major change in health status. If you have any major concerns you should write them down ahead of time. Sometimes, during your appointment, you don’t remember everything you wanted to discuss,” she said.
By catching health problems early, doctors can treat them more effectively. You might even avoid a major health scare altogether.