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The Importance of Annual Physicals

By Kathy Hubbard

In the last several years, there has been some conflicting advice regarding the efficacy of annual physicals. An article published by Harvard Medical School references an international group of researchers who found that a yearly exam doesn’t save people’s lives or health care dollars.

The U.S. Prevention Services Task Force declined to recommend this study, and it wasn’t endorsed by either the American Medical Association or the American College of Physicians. Harvard Medical School didn’t agree with it either. Why? Because for every reason not to have an annual exam, there are ten reasons why you should have one.

We don’t know the health history of Chadwick Boseman, but we do know that he was only 39 years old when he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. And it progressed from there despite treatment. What his symptoms were, I have no clue, nor do I know if he had a family history of the disease. What I do know is that the doctor visit in 2016 gave him four years to make three highly acclaimed movies and that he died much too young.

You know what it comes down to is this. You either want to have a good relationship with your healthcare provider, which is established by seeing him or her yearly and getting age-appropriate screenings, or you’re willing to risk waiting for symptoms to occur.

If you choose the latter, you have to ask yourself honestly if you’ll really and truly seek medical care when something goes wrong. We’ve talked before about how indigestion can mimic a heart attack and vice versa. Will you call your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant when you have a pain in your chest? Or will you wait to see if it goes away? And how long do you think that wait should be? What if its blood in your urine or stool, or painful bowel movements or ejaculations? What if it’s unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge? What about those recurring headaches?

“Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website says. “They also can help find problems early when your chances for treatment and cure are better. By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances of living a longer, healthier life. Your age, health and family history, lifestyle choices, and other important factors impact what and how often you need healthcare.”

Harvard Medical School also says that “you’re much more likely to be open and honest with a clinician you’ve known for a while. Issues such as alcohol or drug use, domestic violence, caregiver burden, depression, and stress are crucial determinants of health. They are easier to talk about with someone you know and trust.”

Also, don’t forget that high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels may not have any symptoms in their early stages. It takes a simple blood test to make sure your numbers are in an acceptable range.

And speaking of acceptable ranges, I’ll tell you my first-hand experience. It was at a regular exam that my nurse practitioner found that my carotid artery was blocked. I was a stroke waiting to happen. This was ten years ago, and I firmly believe that I wouldn’t be writing this article today if she hadn’t found that blockage because I didn’t have one single solitary symptom. Nope. Not one. Now I’m a believer.

So, when’s the last time you had a complete physical exam? When’s the last time you went to the dentist? You do know that oral health is essential to ward off infections and some heart diseases, don’t you? How about the eye doctor? When’s the last time you were checked for glaucoma and macular degeneration, the two leading causes of blindness?

Think about making those appointments today. If you don’t have a primary care provider, Bonner General Health has opened their family practice clinic, and you can call 208-265-2221 for an appointment. If you were a patient of Michelle Anderson, DNP, they have your records.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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