Why do we get an annual physical?
The idea behind an annual physical is that your doctor may examine you and find an undiagnosed condition and thereby catch it early enough to exert some sort of positive benefit. The truth is that there is very little that we 'find' on physical exam that would go unnoticed by the average patient. Many studies have demonstrated that routinely checking a group of people who have NO symptoms or complaints will very rarely reveal any disease or condition of concern. The vast majority of illness and disease will have symptoms and these symptoms will prompt the appropriate exam, tests and ultimately the diagnosis.
As an example - a person could easily see their family doctor for a complete medical check up and following a normal exam still have a heart attack. In short the ability for a annual health exam to turn up a problem is very limited. In our current climate of physician shortages it is therefore very important that we put our time and energy towards measures that DO in fact make a difference. So if there is no annual physical what is there? If you have a symptom that is persistent please bring it to our attention. A directed history and exam will help sort things out and is preferable to mass screening a group of people who feel perfectly healthy.
There are still things you should do on a regular basis through your family doctor to ensure
you areas healthy as you can be. This includes the following:
Get screened for preventable cancers
Colon Cancer - Fecal Occult Blood Testing or Colonoscopy starting at age 50 unless there is a family history of colon cancer when it should start sooner.
Cervical Cancer - Pap Smear every 3 years starting at age 21 until 69.
Breast Cancer - Mammography for women aged 50-74 every 2-3 years.
Prostate Cancer - Examination by physician, and sometimes PSA blood screening. Visit the Canadian Task Force site for more.
Skin Cancer - Watch for moles or other spots on your skin that change or look different from other moles/freckles you may have. Your family doctor can check any suspicious moles for you
Get screened for diabetes which you may not realize you have
Blood Pressure Checks - Can be done any time you are visiting the doctor's office of at a pharmacy which has an automatic machine.
Diabetes - Get Blood work to look for diabetes but this is only if needed - if you are at high risk (you have a strong family history of diabetes in your family, you had diabetes during pregnancy, you are significantly overweight). This should be done every 3-5 years.
Cholesterol - Get Blood work to check your cholesterol levels after age 40. Depending on levels this can be done every 3 to 10 years.
Aneurysm - If you are a male over 65, with a smoking history, your family doctor can consider an ultrasound of your stomach for aortic aneurysms.