Why do I need an annual physical?

Dr. Susan S. Blum, MD
Preventive Medicine Specialist

An annual physical exam is a good for 2 reasons. First, it keeps you in touch with your doctor so that you have someone to call if you get sick or have a problem. And second, an annual exam and blood work is a good basic preventive screening. Women should definitely have an annual gynecological check up, since cervical cancer is completely preventable with an annual pap smear.

Prevention and early diagnosis of problems are the keys to a longer, healthier life. Getting a regular check up lets you know when you need to reduce your lousy LDL cholesterol to cut your risk of cardiovascular problems. It can also encourage you to lose weight, so you reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes and lower your blood pressure. And that’s not all: Annual testing reveals when a rise in PSA levels signals the need for a biopsy, so a man can have early treatment for prostate cancer. (Experts know recommendations now say PSA testing gives false positives, possibly triggering unnecessary procedures, but we say that just means you need to make careful decisions about how to proceed when you see a rise in your PSA level.) A skin check every year can ID skin cancer—and early treatment of melanoma is essential for a good outcome. Even though PAP smears  to check for cervical cancer are no longer done yearly (except for women at high risk), an annual gynecologic exam that checks the breasts and pelvis and looks for STDs is important. And there’s the benefit of having a long-term track record with your primary care physician—continuity builds better, more individualized care—and healthier outcomes.

Dr. Donnica Moore, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Goals of an annual physical exam: Reviewing changes to your health history, reviewing all medications and raising any questions with your doctor. Watch women's health specialist Donnica Moore, MD, explain the importance of having a physical exam.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Poynor, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

An annual check-up is a good opportunity to share any changes in your health and well-being with your doctor, says Elizabeth Poynor, MD, PhD, a gynecologist-oncologist in New York City.

Dr. Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Practitioner

The whole point of a complete physical exam is to look you over from head to toe and do preventative health care. So many diseases are silent—high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), or even cancers such as melanomas, breast, cervical, and colon cancer. Let your family doctor learn your family and personal health history, so he or she can best direct your physical exam and blood work to address your risk factors.

Please don’t wait until you lose those extra 20 pounds or lower that blood pressure of sugar level before you go in. The last thing doctors want is for their patients being afraid that their doctors will judge or criticize them.

Family doctors want to partner with their patients to give them tools to lose that weight or lower that blood pressure or sugar safely. Sometimes, yes, that means starting medicines, but that absolutely does not mean you will be stuck on that medicine for life. Often starting blood pressure or diabetes medicine helps patients feel better—more energy, less headaches—which then enables them to exercise more and have a more effective weight loss program. The goal is to improve your diet and exercise enough that you no longer need the medicine, and that makes for a truly positive annual exam next year.

So check your calendar, and if it’s been over a year since your last physical exam, pick up the phone and call your family doctor to schedule one.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.