Importance of Yearly Physical Exams

One common question doctors hear from their patients is, “do I really need an annual physical exam?”  There are many good reasons why the answer is, “yes”. An annual physical exam is much like taking your car in for routine service – the idea is to identify problems while they’re small and help prevent problems before they occur.

Benefits of an Annual Physical Exam

Many chronic medical conditions are related to people’s lifestyles, behaviors, and habits.  Preventing conditions like diabetes starts early. One of the best ways to do that is to see a patient regularly to monitor things like weight and blood sugar and to discuss strategies to prevent weight gain, promote regular exercise, and encourage healthy eating.  The annual physical exam is a great opportunity to have that discussion with a patient, share educational material, or even make a referral to a dietitian or a specialist.

When You Have a Chronic Medical Problem

If you have a condition like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, you are at risk for complications from these diseases later in life and you need an annual exam to optimize these conditions.  All of these health conditions require management, both from a medical standpoint as well as self-management.  The exam is also a good time to conduct routine screenings to find out if you have or may be developing any of these conditions.  During the exam, you and your family doctor can go over your medications, preventative healthcare recommendations, and immunization updates.

For Women Only

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends an annual examination for most women, although this may vary according to a woman’s age, lifestyle, and risk factors.  Most women should have an annual pelvic examination, breast examination, and Pap smear every one to three years.  A mammogram should be done every one to two years after the age of 40 depending on your risk factors for breast cancer.  Women who are sexually active should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases.  Other reasons for a woman’s annual exam include cancer screening, birth control and reproductive issues, depression screening, and vaccination updates.  Women who are menopausal may need treatment for symptoms like hot flashes.  Women also have other health issues, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

For Parents:  Children and Annual Exams

Infants and younger children actually need exams more frequently than adults because of potential developmental issues.  In the first two years of life, a child should be seen every two to three months.  After that, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends annual exams until age 21.  Examinations for infants, children and adolescents include activities such as hearing and vision checks, developmental screening, and patient education. Doctors also screen for conditions like autism and depression, alcohol and drug use, and STDs in sexually active teens.  Children should also be screened for abuse and domestic violence in the home.

The Extras

During the physical examination, a comprehensive history is taken including medication review, past surgical history, past medical history, past family history, immunization updates, and preventative health care recommendations.  Some of the most important activities in the annual exam revolve around screening for various diseases and cancer.  For example, both men and women should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45 or earlier with a family history of colon cancer.  Lab tests can indicate potentially serious issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes, low thyroid or anemia.  Men who have a history of smoking and are between the ages of 65 and 75 should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm.  Some women should have bone density tests for osteoporosis.

No matter what your age, an annual physical exam is a good idea even if you’re healthy.  In addition to the reasons listed above, the annual exam is also an opportunity for your doctor to get to know your “normal” and for you to build a good relationship.  Contact us today for your annual physical exam at

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