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10 questions to ask at your next checkup

Your annual physical should be more than a quick checkup and a “See you next year, Doc.” It’s your chance to strengthen a vital partnership with your healthcare provider and assess your medical outlook as you head through midlife and into your golden years.

Covering your bases

Think of your physical as a two-part process. First, of course, is the exam itself. The second part is getting a thorough understanding of your health. Here are some questions for your doctor that will help you gain insight:

  1. Are all my signs normal or within accepted limits? Ask about your:
    • body-mass index (BMI), a formula that tells if your weight is appropriate for your height
    • blood pressure and pulse to see if your heart is beating irregularly and if your blood pressure is higher than normal (120/80 mm Hg)
    • breathing to learn if your lungs are working efficiently or if your breathing sounds shallow, labored or rapid
    • skin tone and nails, whose color, texture and appearance give clues to underlying disorders of your vital organs
  2. Is my health better, the same or worse since my last checkup?
  3. What are the best ways I can maintain my health or manage my condition? Ask for advice on:
    • dietary intake to be sure you’re avoiding high-fat, high-calorie meals and aren’t overdoing alcohol
    • physical activities to help prevent disease or manage a chronic condition
    • stress-management tips to ease chronic tension and anxiety that send blood pressure soaring and create a host of other ills
  4. Given my personal and family medical history, do I have a higher than normal risk for certain illnesses? Review with your doctor:
    • your family medical history, which shows if grandparents, parents or siblings had heart attacks, strokes, breast or prostate cancers and other illnesses
    • your personal medical history, which may include a childhood history of sunburn, severe allergies or high fevers that are risk factors for diseases later in life. It shows if you were hospitalized, had surgery or tested positive for allergies to drugs or food
  5. Given my age and health, what symptoms may indicate the onset of an illness?
  6. Given my medical status, what specific symptoms may indicate a health emergency?
  7. What screenings should I have? Your doctor may recommend a mammogram for breast cancer, a bone density scan for osteoporosis, a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy for colorectal cancer, a blood test for prostate-specific antigens that may indicate prostate cancer, a Pap smear to look for irregular cervical cells, or blood tests for cholesterol and other markers for cardiovascular disease.
  8. Should I be seeing a specialist for any reason?
  9. What new therapies or changes in treatment since my last checkup should I know about?
  10. Should I get a flu shot? They’re recommended for patients over age 50. Other candidates: People in public-service jobs; those with heart conditions, asthma, diabetes or an immune-system disorder; and patients receiving cancer treatment.

Be informative

Lastly, be sure to mention any current symptoms or unusual feelings—physical or emotional—that you may have. Never let embarrassment, fear or shame keep you from telling your doctor about a problem. Doctors are trained to handle all your medical concerns—and you won’t be the first patient with a sensitive issue.

Likewise, contact your doctor’s office any time you have a question about your health or are having trouble adhering to his or her instructions. Remember, communicating openly with your doctor is just as important as eating right, exercising and watching your weight.