Even though you probably arenít preparing to go to summer camp or about to try out for a varsity sport ó even though youíve been an adult with relatively stable health for years now ó you need to get a physical. In fact, you and all adults should schedule annual physical exams.
Doctorís appointments arenít fun; they take time out of your day and even inspire fear and anxiety in some. Still, getting a regular physical exam is critical for developing an accurate understanding of your health. If you arenít already convinced that you need to get a physical ASAP, hereís what you need to know about adult checkups.
What Happens During an Adult Physical
The goal of the annual adult physical exam is to better understand how your body is functioning. The tests your doctor performs will depend on your personal health history, to include your familyís history of disease, as well as your age and recent symptoms you might be experiencing.
At the very least, your doctor will ask you to update your health history, adding any new diagnoses, medications, supplements or surgeries to their records. Additionally, nurses or the doctor will check your vital signs, which means taking a blood pressure reading and listening to your heart and lungs. Usually, the doc will also give you a visual once-over, checking your head, eyes, chest and abdomen for unusual conditions, like lumps or discoloration. Usually, your doctor will also use tools to peer into your eyes, ears, nose and throat, again looking for signs of disease.
Depending on your health history and the results of these preliminary tests, your doctor might want to conduct a few additional physical exams. For example, the doctor might want to palpate certain body parts, like your abdomen, to feel for hidden abnormalities, or they might test your reflexes and motor functions. You should also be prepared for examinations of private regions of your body, which are often at risk due to unfamiliarity and modesty.
If it has been many years since your last physical, you should strongly consider getting various laboratory blood tests. A complete blood count and a complete metabolic panel will tell you if you have any irregularities in your liver, kidneys, blood or immune system that bely a more serious problem, like diabetes or thyroid disease. You can also get a cholesterol test if you fear you are at risk of heart disease or stroke.
There are a variety of other screenings and tests that arenít typical but can be performed during your annual physical. For example, if you are concerned about osteoporosis, your doctor can order a bone density scan. You can also request tests for STIs, many of which exhibit no clear symptoms but silently wreak havoc on your health.
As you age, your annual physical will start to include more mandatory tests. Both men and women should begin certain annual tests at certain ages; for example, women nearing age 50 should begin getting mammograms every two years, and men around the same age should screen for prostate cancer. This will help you stay healthy and strong into old age ó and it will help your doctor catch any sneaky diseases before they progress past manageability.
The Benefits of the Annual Checkup
Despite a recent study that determined checkups to have little effect on disease and mortality risks, most patients who make time for physicals attest to feeling more confident in their health and habits after annual assessments. Your physical wonít stop you from eating greasy, fatty foods ó and it canít prevent heart attacks ó but it can inform you of blood pressure levels and cholesterol rates, so you can make healthy changes if you choose to.
However, more important than the information that you gain from your annual exam is the relationship you build with your doctor. Though you might not believe it yet, your body will start to break down, and having a healthcare professional who knows your history is unendingly useful. Thus, it is best to start forming a foundation with a doctor now, when you are relatively healthy, so your doctor understands your baseline health and can sympathize and investigate when unusual symptoms start appearing.
You are an adult; no one is responsible for your health and wellness but you. If you are unwilling to go to the doctor for an annual physical exam ó if you are willing to throw away your one and only life for the sake of convenience ó thatís your prerogative, but it shouldnít be your first choice.