Visiting Your Doctor
Even if you are feeling healthy, you should visit your doctor annually. These visits help doctors to screen for diseases, assess your risk factors for future medical problems, and provide tips for continued wellness.
Make the Most of Your Doctor Visits
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) provides tips for making the most of your doctor visits. AHRQ notes that for you and your doctor to become partners in improving your healthcare, you should:
- Give information. Don’t wait to be asked. No one knows your body better than you. Even if you are uncomfortable discussing your health concerns, provide your doctor with a complete health history. Your doctor is there to help you.
- Get information. Ask questions and make sure that you understand what the doctor tells you. It may help to write down questions and answers for future reference. If you don’t understand, continue to ask for clarification. You can even ask the doctor to draw a picture.
- Take information home. Ask for written instructions and any brochures the doctor may have.
- Follow-up. If you have questions, call the doctor. Also, if your problems get worse or you have problems with your medicine, call. Follow-up to get test results or make additional appointments.
What to Expect During Your Doctor’s Visit
Doctors screen for several common conditions. The types of screenings vary based on your health history and risk for disease. Use My Family Health Portrait to develop your own health history that you can discuss with your doctor. Additionally, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force provides checklists for men and women to remind you which tests you may need to stay healthy at any age.
Common Screening Tests
Obesity: Obesity is calculated using the body mass index (BMI). You can find your own BMI using the BMI calculator from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Cholesterol: There are two types of cholesterol — LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. Although high cholesterol is a major controllable risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, doctors treat this condition through lifestyle changes and/or medicine. The American Heart Association has additional information about cholesterol.
High Blood Pressure: Doctors check blood pressure to see if it is borderline or high. High bloodpressure is 140/90. If your doctor determines that you have high blood pressure, a diet change and/or medicine may be recommended.
Colorectoral Cancer: Using a colonoscopy and/or a fecal occult blood test, your doctor can examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities that may indicate colon or rectal cancer. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) has produced several educational videos that walk viewers through colonoscopy procedures from preparation through post–exam expectations.
Diabetes: Doctors check for diabetes by testing your blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes can be treated through lifestyle changes and/or medicine. Additional information about diabetes, including tips on living with diabetes and food and fitness tips, can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Diabetes Association.
HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Doctors can test for HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, and Herpes. Testing is based on risk factors determined through a discussion with your doctor.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening: If you are between the ages of 65 and 75 and have ever smoked (100 or more cigarettes during your lifetime), your doctor will check for abnormally large or swollen blood vessels in your abdomen.
Oral Health: You should go to the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning. The American Dental Association provides additional information about managing your oral health and resources for finding a dentist.
Vision Problems: Routine eye exams prevent and control eye diseases and vision loss that may result in disability. Common eye disorders include refractive errors, age–related macular degeneration, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy. Eye exams generally include a review of your personal and family health histories, an evaluation of your vision, and tests for certain vision–related conditions, such as glaucoma. Learn vision care basics at Think About Your Eyes and at Prevent Blindness America.
Hearing Loss: As we age, it becomes harder to hear — especially at frequencies of 2000 Hz and above. However, most people ignore the effects of hearing loss and fail to get tested and treated. Hearing screenings check for hearing loss (a failing test) or no hearing loss (a passing tests). Additional information about hearing loss and tests can be found at The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.