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Should you be having a yearly physical?

Dec. 13, 2016 at midnight

Annual physicals are a yearly ritual for most adults, regardless of their overall health. For some, it’s a reassuring visit that makes them feel healthy, for others it’s a great way for picking up early warning signs of something potentially going wrong. Annual physicals are also an excellent way to maintain a patient/doctor relationship, particularly if you have a doctor that you’ve been going to regularly.

What does the doctor check during a physical?

Physical exams can vary greatly from practitioner to practitioner. The one consistent aspect of a physical should be that the doctor listens to your concerns and addresses any particular needs that may have arisen over the last year. Doctors will take note of your family history with regards to aspects like cardiovascular health, cancer risks, strokes or any other issues. They will also enquire if you’ve been engaging in any risky behaviours in the last year, such as smoking, excessive drinking or changes to diet and exercise. This is your time to talk to the doctor about any concerns that you have, and for him to recommend any preventative care measures if you’re at risk of developing health problems.

The practitioner will also check physical vital signs. Blood pressure is a good indicator of cardiovascular health, and people with high blood pressure are generally more at risk of heart attacks or strokes. The doctor will also listen to your heartbeat with a stethoscope to check for any heart murmurs or erratic heartbeats or a rapid heartbeat which could be a red flag for cardiovascular disease. Another vital sign the doctor usually checks is the lungs for any wheezes or signs of lung disease. Some doctors also check your weight, as obesity has been linked to a number of diseases including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others.

If the doctor picks up on any red flags on these tests, they will discuss it with you as well as any potential steps that can be taken to prevent these warning signs from developing further.

Are annual physicals really necessary?

Some health care professionals have recently stated that annual physicals aren’t necessary, can be time- consuming and wasteful, particularly if the person is healthy and doesn’t have a history of any significant risk factors.

The answer to the question of whether you should be having an annual physical is “it depends”. If you’re an adult in good health with no history of chronic disease, then it’s likely that the annual physical isn’t necessary, particularly if you’re somebody who goes to the doctor immediately when you notice a change in your health.

For others, especially those with a family history of significant health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, early-onset cancers, strokes and mental health issues, it’s probably a good idea to consult your family practitioner once a year. During your next visit, discuss your options and whether your physician considers annual visits a necessity, or whether you can scale back your visits to once every couple of years.


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