My colleague has a cartoon taped to his desk. It has a man, down to his boxers, sitting on the doctor’s exam table, his body covered in post-its. The caption reads, “My wife has a few things she wants you to look at.
You’d be amazed how many times we hear that (without the post-its) every day. We’re usually glad for anything that takes you to your provider before a problem gets out of hand, but contrary to popular belief, a physical is not the ideal time to bring in that list. The time you have for your physical should be spent in finding and preventing diseases, not fixing ones that already exist.
I’ve talked about the annual physical in the past, and the truth is, every provider’s preference is different.
Mine, for example, is that if you’re healthy and have no chronic problems, a physical every two years is sufficient until the age of 50.
Not many people enjoy being poked and examined, but hopefully knowing what to expect can alleviate some of that discomfort. I say some of that discomfort, because a rectal exam is still a rectal exam.
A blood pressure check, height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI), and at our clinics, screening for depression is routine at every visit. All other testing is individualized after a discussion with your physician.
The age at which these tests are recommended differs based on your personal risk factors.
Updating immunizations is an important part of a physical. This can include a tetanus and pertussis booster, a one time shingles vaccine, or a pneumonia vaccine (there are now two pneumonia vaccines, by the way). Some individuals may be eligible for the HPV vaccine, Hepatitis A and B vaccines, or the meningococcal vaccine as well.
A physical is also a good time to discuss what cancer screenings may be appropriate for you.
- Breast cancer screening.
Mammograms start at age 40 or 50 and can be done either annually or every two years.
- Colon cancer screening.
Although there are a few options on how to screen for colon cancer, my preference is a colonoscopy. This generally starts at age 50.
- Cervical cancer screening.
Pap smears start at age 21 and can usually be done every three years.
- Prostate cancer screening.
This starts at age 50 in most men. It used to be that a blood test and rectal exam was done in every male, every year. Now the blood tests are only done after a discussion with the patient.
- Skin cancer screening.
Screening for osteoporosis is done with a bone density scan. This is routinely done at age 65 unless your provider feels it should be sooner.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is done with an ultrasound. It should be considered for men between the ages of 65-75 who have history of smoking.
Blood work is often part of a physical. This can include a cholesterol check, diabetes screening in some, and other blood work your doctor may consider appropriate. Not every person needs blood tests every year, though.
A physical is also a great time to have general discussions about how much exercise you’re getting, how much calcium you’re taking, and what changes you can make to live a healthier life. And sometimes you’re doing such a great job, we just get to give you a high five and send you on your way.
Ridgeview Medical Center is an independent, nonprofit, regional health care system located just 35 minutes west of Minneapolis on Highway 5. Its network includes two hospitals—located in Waconia and Arlington—a multitude of primary and specialty care clinics, emergency services and specialty programs, and Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska—a free-standing 24/7 emergency and urgent care facility with multi-specialty clinics and services.