As 2021 approaches, are you neglecting any yearly health to-dos?
2020 has pretty much wrecked our normal rhythms, but you still have time to get back on track with your yearly health screenings. Don’t miss this year-end medical to-do checklist!
- Get your annual physical and basic lab work. Your doctor may recommend more lab work based on your individual medical history, but a good baseline list would be CBC, CMP, Vitamin D, TSH, HbA1c, and a lipid panel. Preventive health visits should be completely covered by your insurance; it is a good idea to get in before the year is over. Your doctor will do a physical exam and check if you have any new health concerns. Yearly lab work is also a great way to track changes in your overall health. Has your cholesterol level changed? How is the regulation of your blood sugar looking? If you can get your blood work done before your annual visit with your primary care doctor, then you might have more of a chance to review the results with your doctor. I always recommend my patients to keep records of all their lab work and look them over themselves to try to spot any negative or positive trends. Bring a list of questions to your visit to make sure that anything you notice gets addressed. Getting your annual physical is even more crucial this year as we have all been through an unprecedented crisis. Stress causes the release of cortisol, which can throw off blood sugar and cholesterol, even if we are still eating well and exercising. Remember that knowledge is power, and it’s always better to know where you stand.
- Get your annual pelvic and breast exam done and your Pap smear if due. Women aged 30-65 need a pap smear every 3 years or every 5 years if done with HPV co-testing. This can all be done at your annual physical if you do not have any new concerns. It’s a good idea to know the date of your last Pap and if it tested for HPV. Review past Pap smear results and bring up any questions with your physician. While your primary care doctor or Ob/Gyn should know when you are due for a Pap, ultimately your health is your responsibility. Screening guidelines are different if you had a previous cervical/ovarian/uterine cancer or a partial or total hysterectomy. Always consult with your doctor about the schedule right for you.
- Schedule any necessary screening exams – lung cancer screening, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.
- A colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years starting at 50 years old unless you are at a higher risk. Talk to your doctor if you have family members who were diagnosed with colon cancer as you may need to screen earlier and more frequently. Screening is currently recommended between 50 and 75 years of age.
- Mammography is currently recommended every 2 years for women aged 50-74 unless you are at a higher risk. If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about screening earlier than 50 years old.
- Low dose computed tomography (LDCT) is a new lung cancer screening method. While recommendations for this modality are still being updated, the current guideline advises screening for adults aged 55-80 and a 30-pack per year smoking history for those who have quit within the last 15 years.
- Get your yearly eye exam and update your prescription if needed. Many things in health can be maintained and preserved. The best way to preserve vision, for example, is to make sure you always have the best possible support for your eyes. If you are experiencing eye strain or other ailments, talk to your eye doctor about the possibility of adding a blue light blocker or anti-glare feature to your glasses. Screens are very hard on our eyes and doing everything you can to protect them is always a good idea. Bone density, for another example, tends to decline gradually as we age (peaking in our 20s). While we can’t totally stop this process, we can influence the rate of decline. When we take care of our bodies, we decline more slowly and can enjoy better health for much longer.
- Review your medications with your doctor – make sure nothing is interacting negatively and that you still need to be taking everything prescribed. Sometimes patients will continue to take medication because the target end-date was not made clear.