Healthcare Question of the Month

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Question: If I’m healthy, do I still need to visit my doctor regularly for physical exams? 

Answer:

 

Even if you or your spouse is feeling well, it is still important to visit your doctor regularly to check for potential problems. While the frequency and thoroughness of these physical exams varies by age, gender and overall health, it’s likely your doctor may offer preventive services that include:

  • Screenings to check your general health and test for diseases
  • Advice about healthy lifestyle choices like diet, exercise and stress reduction
  • Immunizations to protect against diseases

According to Dr. Lynn Stanco, a family practice doctor at the West Allis Medical Clinic, “I hear people boast that they haven’t seen a doctor in ten years, and it’s really nothing to brag about.  As we age, our bodies change and some of those changes, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, may not be evident without a medical examination and lab work.  It truly is an hour once a year that can save your life.”


Recommended Screenings
Based on scientific evidence, the health experts from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have outlined recommendations for both men and women when it comes to screenings for several conditions:

  • Obesity: Have your body mass index (BMI) calculated to screen for obesity, which is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and harmful cholesterol.
  • High Cholesterol: Have your cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 45 to avoid developing heart disease, which kills more Americans than all cancers combined. If you are younger than 45, talk to your doctor if you have other risk factors.
  • High Blood Pressure: Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years to determine if you are at risk for heart attack, stroke or heart disease.
  • Colorectal Cancer: Have a test for colorectal cancer starting at 50. Your doctor can help you decide which test is right for you.
  • Diabetes:  Have a test for diabetes if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Treating this disease is essential to avoiding serious complications or premature death.
  • Depression: Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Talk to your doctor if you have felt down, sad or hopeless over the last 2 weeks or have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things.
  • Skin Cancer Screening: Perform a self-exam of your skin every year, but if you are at greater risk for developing skin cancer, be sure to see your doctor about more frequent in-office screenings.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be tested for gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia (especially if you are a woman 25 or younger and sexually active) or other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • HIV:  You should talk to your doctor if you have practiced unsafe sexual behaviors or potentially been exposed to HIV.

Women should have the following additional screenings:

  • Breast Cancer: Have a mammogram every two years for women ages 50 to 74, and earlier if you have risk factors
  • Cervical Cancer: Have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you have ever been sexually active or are between the ages of 21 and 65.
  • Osteoporosis: Have a bone density test beginning at age 65 to screen for osteoporosis or thinning of the bones, which thins and weakens a person's bones, making them more porous (less dense) and fragile, and thus more likely to break.

Because some men who have prostate cancer, the second deadliest cancer for men, do not have any symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine if regular screening is necessary. Additionally, men between 65 and 75 years old who have ever smoked should be screen once for abdominal aortic aneurysm, an abnormally large or swollen blood vessel in the abdomen that may cause life-threatening uncontrolled bleeding and, potentially, death.


Healthy Lifestyle Advice

Following these healthy lifestyle tips can keep you feeling fit for years to come.

  • Don't smoke. If you do, talk to your doctor for help quitting. Call the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line at (877) 270-7867 for free personal counseling and support or call (414) 963-WELL to register for Columbia St. Mary’s smoking cessation classes.
  • Be active. Even moderate activity like walking briskly, swimming and bicycling can improve your health. Start small and work up to 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity several days a week. Read more about Columbia St. Mary’s Weigh to Go! exercise classes.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Be sure your diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Click here for tips on how to pack a healthy lunch.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Balance calories from foods and beverages with calories you burn off by your activities. Be sure to check out Columbia St. Mary’s diet and nutrition classes. 
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. If you drink alcohol, have no more than two drinks a day.


Immunizations
“It’s a good idea to ask your doctor about any immunizations you may need since the vaccines you received as a child may not protect you for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Stanco.

All adults should have the following vaccines:

  • Hepatitis B vaccine: Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure and death.
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine: Anyone 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have had either the vaccines or the diseases.
  • Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccine: Tetanus (lockjaw) is an often fatal infectious disease caused by the bacteria which usually enter the body through a puncture, cut or open wound. Diphtheria is an acute bacterial infection that usually strikes the upper respiratory tract.
  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine: Chickenpox, a common childhood disease, is usually mild in children. However, it can lead to serious illness in adults.
     

Adults 50 or older should have these vaccines as well:

  • Influenza vaccine: The flu, caused by viruses, can cause mild to severe illness, and at times death. Older adults and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu. All adults age 50 or older should receive a yearly flu shot. The best time to get a flu shot is late October or early November as flu cases tend to peak in February. Getting the flu vaccine in October or November gives your body time to build immunity and protects you in case outbreaks hit early in your area.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine: This vaccine helps prevent the most common type of pneumonia and is recommended for people age 65 or older. Most people who receive the vaccine at age 65 or older require this vaccine only once. Younger adults with certain chronic conditions should also be immunized.

From blood pressure and skin cancer screenings to breast health awareness and mindful eating tips, Columbia St. Mary’s Hospitals offer essential tools to keep you feeling well. Check out our latest events and classes.

 

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