If you’re a parent of children living in the United States, you probably drag your child to yearly physical examinations. Surely you remember visiting the doctor for checkups during your own childhood, a clear divide between the “sick” side of the waiting room and the “well” side. Most schools require children to get yearly checkups from their physician if they are to participate in sports or after school activities. Some schools even require check-ups for regular attendance. These rules are enforced because we want our children to be healthy and safe, and to grow and develop in environments that are free of contaminants and disease.
The great irony is that even though we enforce these behaviors in our children, stressing the importance of regular physical examinations, many adults lose sight of the importance of regular exams with their primary care physicians. They consider themselves to be in good health and therefore take a “why bother?” attitude. Have you ever noticed a lump or suspicious mole that wasn’t there before and let it go, felt a sharp pain in your chest and shrugged it off, attributed exhaustion to hard work, or blamed pain in your muscles or joints on getting older? Maybe you typed your symptoms into WebMD, but did you go so far as to schedule an appointment with your doctor?
According to an article from UnityPoint Clinic, nearly a third of the estimated 133 million Americans living with a chronic condition are unaware they have it. Additionally, 7 out of every 10 deaths are caused by a chronic disease.
To be fair, 92 percent of Americans feel it is important to get yearly physical examinations and 145 million (roughly 45 percent) actually follow through on their intentions every year. But what about that eight percent who don’t even see the importance in a yearly exam? Whether you suspect that something could be wrong or you feel perfectly fine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises regular physical examinations because they can help find problems before they start or early enough that your chances of treatment and survival are much higher.
Regular does not necessarily mean every year, however, and many health professionals are now saying yearly checkups may be unnecessary for adults because, over the last few decades, medical studies have failed to establish a definitive connection between yearly physicals in healthy adults and reduced mortality or improved overall health. No matter which side of the debate you favor though, it is imperative that visits to your doctor at least be regular.
“Regular” could mean a year for some people, or five years for others. According to U.S. News, “The need for physical exams by your doctor is highly individual.” Age and high risk factors for certain diseases and conditions are key considerations. Additionally, if you suffer from a chronic illness or are on a prescription drug prescribed to you by your primary care physician, you should be checking in regularly, not as a preventative measure in this case, but to evaluate your current state of health based on your preexisting condition.
If you’re unsure how often you should be visiting your doctor, why not just ask your doctor how often they would like to see you? They will be able to evaluate your state of health and tell you how often you should be checking in. Ultimately, it is important that your establish a friendly and trusting relationship with your doctor, and if you feel that is best achieved by visiting once a year, there is nothing keeping you from that.
Don’t wait until you’re sick to pay your doctor a visit; by that point, it could be too late. It is far better to be proactive about your health and have regular physicals even when you’re feeling well. Just keep in mind that “regular “ means something different for every person, but talk with your doctor to establish how often you should be coming in, and you can feel in control of your health.