Physical Exams - February 8, 2011 Newsletter

Understanding the Importance of Physical Exams

EHE Newsletter, Volume 11, Number 6
February 8, 2011

The easiest way to ensure a long and healthy life is to lead a healthy lifestyle and to take measures to prevent illness whenever possible. The physical exam is a vital part of preventive medicine for all people regardless of age, sex or activity level; its importance cannot be emphasized enough.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), all adults — even seemingly healthy ones — should undergo regular physical examinations at their healthcare provider’s recommended frequency. The purposes of these exams are to:

  • Screen for diseases
  • Assess the risk of future medical problems
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle
  • Update vaccinations
  • Maintain a relationship with a doctor in case of illness

Today, preventive services are customized, taking into account an individual’s health status, risk factors and personal and family health history.

How to Get the Most from a Physical Exam

The most important part of a physical exam is the exchange of information between patient and doctor. The patient should prepare for the visit ahead of time by collecting important information which includes a list of questions for the doctor, a list of current concerns and a list of all medications and supplements that he or she is currently taking. If any new conditions or diseases have occurred among the individual’s family members since his or her last physical exam, they should be discussed as family history can influence the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

Additionally, it is important for each individual to note any changes that have occurred since his or her last exam and explain what these changes are and when they began. Lifestyle behaviors that may affect an individual’s health such as diet, activity level, stress level and drug, alcohol and tobacco use should all be discussed candidly at the physical exam. The doctor needs to be told how an individual lives, works and plays in order to develop an effective health plan and assess the risks of certain diseases and conditions. To get the best possible guidance, it is imperative that individuals provide the most up–to–date and accurate information.

Screening and Immunizations for a Healthier Life

Screening tests play a major role in preventive medicine and are an important part of a physical exam. Even before symptoms are recognized or risks are identified, screening tests help to detect diseases in their early, most treatable stages and can even prevent disease. Many risk factors and diseases are highly treatable when detected early. Without screenings, however, many conditions will go unnoticed because they do not produce symptoms until a critical level is reached. High blood pressure, for instance, is a silent disease that does not exhibit symptoms. Yet with every heartbeat, high blood pressure can cause more and more damage to every part of the body. Likewise, high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels often do not produce any symptoms until advanced stages. Physical exams may include screening tests for:

  • Certain types of cancers such as breast, cervical, colorectal, prostate and skin cancer
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sexually–transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Hearing and vision loss

The exams and screenings that an individual needs depend on his or her age, health, family history and lifestyle choices such as diet, activity level and tobacco use. The healthcare provider will determine which screenings are necessary and when.

In addition to recommended screenings, it is important for individuals to receive recommended immunizations to protect against serious, preventable diseases. According to the CDC, there are a significant number of illnesses, disabilities and deaths that result from diseases that could easily have been prevented by vaccines. All adults need to be immunized against tetanus and diphtheria. Depending on age and health, an individual may also need protection against influenza, hepatitis, measles, rubella, chickenpox and/or streptococcal (pneumococcal) pneumonia. Immunizations are especially vital for senior citizens.

Regular physical exams give healthcare providers the opportunity to discuss and counsel patients on aspects of their lifestyles that are affecting their health. Topics that may be covered include nutrition and exercise, substance abuse, safe sex practices and injury prevention. This counseling is an important part of the physical exam and it is vital that individuals listen carefully and discuss the changes, opportunities and obstacles that they face.

Make an appointment for a physical exam today. By finding, diagnosing and treating problems early, you can live a much longer and healthier life.

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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information is not intended to constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for consultation with a physician or other healthcare provider. Individuals with specific complaints should seek immediate consultation from their personal physicians.

Source: EHE

EHE International