5 questions to ask your primary care provider during an annual physical

Published: November 21, 2023

Making the most of your annual physical matters. It’s the one visit that your primary care provider (PCP) dedicates to hearing about and discussing all the health issues and concerns that you have. It’s also the time when your PCP schedules routine tests, including cancer screenings, which can detect and diagnose diseases in their earliest, most treatable, stages.

An annual physical typically begins with routine checks of blood pressure, heart rhythm, and other vital functions that indicate how well your body is working. But its focus is prevention. Your PCP will review your health screening status, and give you prescriptions for blood work, as well as mammography, colonoscopy, prostate, lung, skin, eye, or other routine screenings that can spot diseases, like cancer, early enough to treat and possibly cure them. Your physical is also an ideal time to address chronic health care issues, like hypertension, diabetes, or thyroid irregularity, and for your PCP to adjust dosages of any medications you are taking.

Preparing in advance is the best way to optimize your physical. Prioritize — and write down — the health concerns that are most important to you. Keep in mind that your age, gender, personal and family health history, as well as risk factors, such as smoking and substance use, will help your physician determine which future screenings or tests you may need.

When it comes to health, there is no one-size-fits-all. The results and recommendations from your annual physical are unique to you. To make the most of it, you may want ask your PCP:

1. Am I up to date on all of my vaccinations?

Like most U.S. adults, you probably received polio and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations during infancy. But when was your last tetanus shot? Are you vaccinated for the latest strain of COVID-19, as well as RSV, and flu? What about shingles or pneumonia? Your PCP will review your vaccination status for these and other preventable illnesses. If you are planning to travel abroad, then you may also want to inquire about any vaccinations or medications that may be recommended as a preventative measure. 

2. What cancer screenings should I consider?

Many cancer screenings begin at around age 40, including those for breast, colon, and prostate cancer. If you are a former smoker, you may be eligible for lung cancer screening. These screenings will not prevent disease, but early detection will give your provider a jump on referring you to the specialist(s) who can monitor it and, if necessary, begin early treatment, which may improve your outcome.

3. How much anxiety and stress is normal?

Have you been struggling emotionally? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you find yourself eating too much or too little, or not wanting to get out of bed in the morning? Rates of depression and anxiety are up, especially since the pandemic. Untreated depression and anxiety commonly lead to fatigue, irritability, or even weight gain  or loss. Your PCP can prescribe medication or refer you to a mental health professional if necessary.

4. Should I consider making any healthy lifestyle changes?

Unintentional weight gain, as well as sleep trouble or low energy may indicate the need to modify your diet, activity level, or reduce or eliminate your intake of alcohol or other substances. These days, there are many options for managing weight. If you have obesity-related comorbidities such as diabetes or high blood pressure, then your physician may want to prescribe medication. If you need to make lifestyle changes, then your physician can counsel you about eating a healthier diet, safely starting a regular exercise routine, or finding support to help you quit tobacco or other substances. If necessary, your physician may refer you to a nutritionist or sleep specialist.

5. What health goals should I set for myself?

Although your PCP will educate you about taking care of yourself, it is up to you to follow through by picking up referrals for tests or procedures, as well as prescriptions for bloodwork and other diagnostic screenings, including pap smear, mammography, colonoscopy, and a prostate cancer exam.

Your annual physical is more than an opportunity for you and your physician to discuss your physical and psychological health. It is an ideal time for you to set health goals to follow independently, so that you can stay as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Our Stamford Health Medical Group primary care providers are accepting new patients and look forward to meeting you! View our doctors to schedule an appointment now.

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