The 6 Most Important Health Appointments You Must Stop Avoiding
Between work, family, and every other personal obligation, you might forget to take good care of yourself. Too many unhealthy foods may creep into your diet; workouts might become few and far between; and doctor visits might be the furthest thing from your mind — at least until you start to feel sick. (See also: How to Feel Better Fast)
However, the time to think about your health isn't after you suspect a problem. Just about every medical condition has an early stage, and an early diagnosis can be the key to long-term health and longevity. Not that you should obsess about healthcare or schedule needless doctor visits; but there are appointments that you should make every year.
1. Annual Wellness Checkup or Physical
There is no hard and fast rule regarding how often we should get an annual physical. Some in the medical field suggest yearly checkups for everyone, yet others feel that annual physicals aren't necessary until the age of 50.
But even if your doctor says that you can go two or three years between physicals, there is no harm in an annual trip. Our health can change quickly and a physical exam can possibly detect hidden illnesses before symptoms develop.
For example, your doctor will listen to your heartbeat during the physical, and any irregular sounds might suggest a heart murmur or another cardiac issue. He'll also check your blood pressure and order a series of blood tests which can evaluate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and determine whether your organs are functioning properly. (See also: Natural Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar)
Additionally, annual physicals conducted by a primary physician can include gender-specific examinations, such as a clinical breast exam, a Pap smear, and a pelvic exam for women, and a testicular exam for men. This is also your chance to discuss any issues or concerns with your doctor.
2. Eye Exam
If your vision is perfectly clear and you don't have any eye problems, you can probably schedule an eye exam every two to four years. However, if you wear corrective lenses, have a known eye problem, or a history of diabetes or high blood pressure, yearly examinations are important for keeping your prescription up-to-date and assessing the health of your eyes.
Some eye diseases that cause complete vision loss are treatable if caught early. For example, with an early diagnosis your doctor may be able to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and perhaps reverse vision loss. The same is true for glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The longer it takes to diagnose an eye disease, the greater the risk for permanent damage.
3. Skin Exam
A survey conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation found that 42% of those polled received a sunburn at least once a year. And since it only takes "one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence to double a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life," annual skin exams by a dermatologist are crucial for diagnosing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers early. (See also: 7 Ways to Protect Your Skin)
And don't think you're safe just because you've never experienced a sunburn. There is still a risk if you have a family history of skin cancer, or if you have several sizable moles on your body.
During the appointment, your dermatologist will examine your body from head to toe and check for suspicious moles — and if necessary, remove and biopsy questionable skin marks.
Although the majority of moles are harmless, you shouldn't hesitate to make an appointment with your dermatologist if you're worried about a skin spot, or if a mole changes in size or appearance.
4. Dental X-Rays
Dental cleanings every six months contribute to your oral health. But in addition to regular cleanings, you should schedule dental X-rays about every one to three years, depending on the overall health of your teeth and age. (See also: How to Avoid Expensive Dental Problems)
For example, adults and adolescents with a low risk for decay can go 18 to 36 months between X-rays, yet it's recommended that those with a higher risk for decay schedule annual X-rays.
Dental X-rays are painless and quick. They can help your doctor identify decay that's not visible from an oral examination, as well as reveal bone loss and other abnormalities.
5. Flu Vaccination
You might view the flu as nothing more than a severe cold, but it's much more. (See also: Frugal Ways to Treat a Cold)
This virus is responsible for nearly 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year. And although flu-related complications are higher in young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with a compromised immune system, the virus can kill healthy adults as well.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of six months, and it offers 90% protection. Although a vaccination is optional, an annual shot can potentially save your life or the life of someone you love.
The recommendations for breast cancer screening vary, with some organizations like the National Cancer Institute advocating mammograms every one to two years starting at the age of 40.
Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast examination every one to three years by a primary care physician or gynecologist, reports Susan G. Komen.
Are there other annual appointments that you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below.