Did you know that many serious health issues might not show any symptoms until it's too late? A person with high blood pressure, for example, might feel completely normal, but is running a very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a heart attack. A person could be on the brink of developing or already have a potentially deadly illness like heart attack, stroke, or even certain types of cancers or sexually transmitted infections but still feel totally fine. That's why health specialists recommend an annual physical examination whether you feel sick or not.
Annual physicals may vary from doctor to doctor, but most physicians try to check all the body's systems during an exam. This means examining the skin, listening to the heart and lungs, feeling for abnormalities in abdominal organs and lymph nodes, and testing vision, reflexes and neurological response time. Often times the examination of these systems by a doctor is supplemented with laboratory work in the form of blood and urine tests. Common blood work can measure blood count, electrolyte, blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and thyroid function. Routine sexually transmitted disease tests, check for HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and hepatitis B and C. A urine test might also be used to measure kidney function. The doctor will also go over your immunization record and may update you on any necessary vaccines. Results of blood work and urine tests may take 3-5 business days, and a doctor or nurse will call you with those results once they are processed. Depending on the office, blood work and immunizations may cost additional fees, so talk to your receptionist or doctor beforehand if you have concerns.
One of the most important things to remember before going to your physical exam is that an accurate medical history is a critical component of an effective physical. Before your appointment, be sure you know the facts about your own and your family's medical history, as certain illnesses like high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart attack and breast cancer can be genetically predisposed. Your personal surgical history, as well as knowledge of any medications, supplements, or herbs you are taking, is important as well, so write them down and bring the list with you if you're afraid you'll forget. If you're going to a new doctor, try to get a copy of your old medical and immunization records to make the process easier. Most importantly, remember to be honest with your physician. Questions about mental health, sexual activity, smoking and drinking habits, and use of illicit substances all provide important information to your health care provider about how to best take care of you, so tell the truth, even if you feel embarrassed.
Most insurance companies cover annual exams, as preventative medicine is easier and less expensive for them, too! But even if you don't have health insurance, you should still try and get a physical annually, as it can save you a lot of medical bills in the long run! Many walk in clinics around the country have affordable preventative healthcare even for people without insurance, so check out clinics in your area for possible options.