Friday, November 11, 2011

Doctor's Orders: Is It Time For A Checkup?

Good Health is priceless, and preventive medicine pays.  It's always easier to nip a medical problem in the bud, than to treat a chronic disease.  If detected early, skin cancer can be removed in a doctor's office, and breast cancer treated as outpatient surgery.  Sometimes a doctor's advice about diet and exercise can even stop a patient from developing an illness, which would then require medicine or surgery to treat.  In our 20s we may feel invincible, but hopefully, we know better as we mature.  A trusted doctor is important to have, and regular checkups can help you maintain optimal heath.  Below is a cheat sheet for the checkups you need and at what age to begin (i.e. add a new exam): 

Your 20s
Men and Women:
1. Internist or family doctor – Go once a  year for a general checkup: Your doctor draws your blood (so you may have to fast) and takes urine and stool samples to check your general health and screen for an assortment of diseases.  My doctor checks my reflexes, breathing, heart, blood pressure and a host of other things.  He has me follow beams of light with my eyes.  Looks in my mouth and ears.  We discuss diet and exercise.  He gives annual flu and booster shots, such as tetanus, as needed.  He checks to see if patients have immunities to childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella and will vaccinate, if necessary.  He examines my glands and makes sure everything looks normal.
2. Dentist – Go every 6 months.  Cleans and does an oral exam.  Checks for oral cancers and fills cavities if you have any.
3. Dermatologist – Go once a year if you have a family history of skin cancer, or immediately if you see suspicious moles, or have a lesion that won't heal.
4. Women: Gynecologist Go once a year.  Screens for breast, cervical and ovarian cancers.  If you have multiple or a new sex partner, you should also be screened for STDs.

Your 30s, add
Men and Women:
5. A cholesterol screening – This is usually done during your yearly visit with your internist.  When the doctor draws your blood, s/he will send it off to the lab to be tested.  It's why you fast before you go.
6. In your late 30s or early 40s – Doctors may begin doing stress tests/echocardiograms on your heart, if you have a family history of heart disease.

Your 40s, add
6. Women: A mammogram – Early detection saves lives.  Women should talk to their doctor, but I think we've come a long way in curing breast cancer because of the ability to detect and treat it at an early stage.  Beginning at 40, a mammogram once a year seems sensible to me.  [Some doctors say you can wait until age 50; I wouldn't.]
7. Women: After 45, ask about a bone density scan – Especially if you are small-framed, or carry a low weight.
8. Men: A rectal exam and PSA blood test to check for prostrate cancer.
9. Men: A screening for testicular cancer [routine, done during your yearly physical, but the 40s is a time to be vigilant; don't skip exams]
10. Men and Woman: An eye exam with an ophthalmologist – At least every two years to check for glaucoma.

Your 50s, add
11. Men and Women: A colonoscopy – Every 5 years.  Polyps are removed during the examination, including ones that can develop into colon cancer if left untreated.

Your 60s and beyond, add
12. Men and Women: Visits with your primary care doctor to monitor any medications you take and problems that creep up.  As we age, cataracts can steal vision, but treatment from an eye doctor can save it.

Fortunately, I have fabulous doctors, who are knowledgeable, compassionate and good listeners.  They are thorough without being alarmists.  With regular checkups and by following doctor's orders, I hope to stay healthy for a very long time.  Care to join me?  If you know it, do you do it?

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