Resolution: Talk to doctor this year

Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:05 a.m.


Make the most of your visit

  • Know what screening tests are required for your age group, and be aware of what the results should be.
  • Ask how your lifestyle could be affecting your health - in good and bad ways.
  • Come prepared with your own list of questions.
  • Bring your family health history to your first appointment.

  • There are lots of reasons to schedule an annual physical examination, no matter what your age. Call it an ounce of prevention.
    For one thing, it gives your doctor the opportunity to know you as a person, not just a sick person. If your physician is familiar with your family medical history, your lifestyle and your overall health, he or she is more likely to detect little problems before they become big ones.
    Here are some things you can ask or do to make the most of your next doctor's visit, as suggested by a group of Gainesville physicians.
  • At my age, what screening tests should I be getting and what results should I expect?
    The tests that are part of an annual physical exam will vary with your sex and age.
    A woman between 18 and 29 should expect to have a Pap test and complete pelvic exam, as well as a screening test to determine total blood cholesterol. If the level is more than 240 mg/dl, she should have a complete blood lipid profile to determine the level of HDL, LDL and triglycerides. If she takes oral contraceptives, the Women's Heart Foundation recommends a lipid profile annually.
    Between the age of 35 and 39, she should have a baseline mammogram. If it turns out to be normal, she should redo it in no more than two years, and sooner if she has a family history of breast cancer.
    After age 40, a woman also should have an electrocardiogram every one or two years.
    Women who are 65 and older should be screened for osteoporosis, or brittle bones, by bone density testing.
    Blood pressure checks are a routine part of an exam for men or women regardless of age.
    Both men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer after the age of 50.
    Men over 50 should have a digital rectal exam and PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening in addition to blood, urine and other lab tests.
    Men in groups at high risk for prostate cancer, including African Americans, should begin PSA testing at a younger age.
  • Could my lifestyle be affecting my health - and not in a good way?
    It may be uncomfortable to tell your doctor about issues such as smoking, drinking, diet or exercise, but each can adversely affect your health. He or she can't accurately diagnose or prescribe treatment for you without information.
    This is also the time to talk about natural and alternative medicines or treatments you use or are considering.
    Bring your health history to your first appointment, including immunization records, childhood diseases, surgeries and a list of any family members, living or dead, who have had cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
  • Come prepared with your own list of questions.
    Write down questions before your visit, listing the most important first so that you will get answers. Ask your doctor to explain any words or conditions you do not understand. Ask for written instructions if you'll find them helpful. Ask why the physician is recommending certain tests and what information he or she can learn from the results.
    In other words, be proactive in looking after your own good health.
    Larry Fields, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says he considers an annual visit to the doctor to be "critical."
    "There is no single battery of tests that every patient needs every year," Fields said.
    "But if someone is seeing their physician on a regular basis for specific health concerns, at some point they need to have that annual discussion about preventive health," he said.
    Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or
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