Curiosity pays when it comes to getting the best care
Annual checkups aren't just another item on your to-do list. These doctor visits present a wonderful opportunity for you to really learn something about your personal health and, hopefully, go home with a new appreciation for healthy habits. "If you're letting your doctor do all the talking and questioning at your checkup, you're short-changing your care," says Robert F. Raspa, M.D., a family physician at Jacksonville, Fla., who is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Here are eight key questions to ask at your next visit:
- Is my blood pressure in the healthy range? Elevated blood pressure is one of the first signs of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and kidney disease, so it's good to know where your numbers fall on the spectrum. If you're close to the border, your doctor might recommend self-monitoring, lifestyle changes, or even medication.
- What's my BMI (body mass index)? "We want everyone in a healthy weight range," says Raspa, "and discussing your BMI gives us an entry point to talk about the importance of exercising and a healthy diet." He notes that BMI numbers aren't always perfect, particularly for athletes, but they're still a useful tool.
- Is there anything in my family health history that's a concern? Several diseases and chronic conditions are passed on in family genes. With this information, your doctor can talk to you about specific preventive measures and/or tests that can help you avoid the same fate. Be sure to bring up any new illnesses that have been diagnosed in the family from year to year.
- What health issues commonly plague people my age? "Ideally, your doctor will bring this up as part of the checkup," says Raspa, "but if they don't, you should." The goal with this question is to open up a dialogue about your lifestyle and health habits—and to put wellness issues on your radar.
- What annual screenings do you recommend for my age and gender? Many cancer screenings don't begin until you hit or pass middle age, but you don't want to leave the office without asking if it's time to schedule a pap smear, colonoscopy, mammogram or prostate exam.
- Is my lifestyle harming my health? If your doctor hasn't asked you about your sex life, how often you drink, or what kind of daily stress you're under, take a deep breath and bring these sensitive issues up yourself. "We're on your side and aren't here to judge," says Raspa. The unfortunate truth is that many sexually transmitted infections present no symptoms and can be spread unknowingly. In terms of stress management, your doctor can share healthy ways to manage life's zingers.
- Are my medications still necessary? Remind your doctor about all of your prescriptions and their dosages, as well as any supplements and over-the-counter medications you take regularly. Health conditions can improve, bodies can change, both of which may mean it's time to take a second look at what you're taking.
- Is this normal? Bodies are mysterious, and just about everyone has some embarrassing body issue they're curious or concerned about. Raspa says incontinence, erectile issues, bowel movements, and menopause symptoms are among the most common topics that patients have a difficult time discussing. "Go ahead and ask us," he says. "There's help for all of these issues."