6 Questions to Always Ask Your Doctor

Get the answers you need to take control of your health.

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Your healthcare provider is a wealth of knowledge, brimming with information to share with you, but it can be tough to cover every aspect of your health in a single office visit. That's why coming prepared with a list of questions is invaluable. Some, of course, should be specific to your existing conditions or family history of disease—but other, more general questions can help, as well, no matter the reason for your visit.

"Your doctor is very interested in making sure you reach your optimum health," says Joe Llenos, MD, a doctor of family medicine with West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, Idaho. He pinpoints six questions everyone should ask during their next checkup.

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How can I improve my health at home?

Routine visits to your primary care physician, as well as other specialists, can help keep your health on track, but how you take care of yourself between visits is important, too. A healthy lifestyle can protect against illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, which in combination with other chronic conditions, affect about half of all US adults and cost Americans more than 2 trillion dollars a year. 

There are proven—and expert-recommended—methods to reduce your disease risk, including:

  • A diet rich in fresh produce, lean sources of protein, healthy fats and whole grains
  • Plenty of physical activity
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Not drinking alcohol to excess
  • Avoiding illicit drug use

A healthy diet and regular exercise can help keep extra pounds at bay, as well; excess weight has been linked to diabetes, stroke, heart disease and certain cancers.

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How can I reduce stress and sleep better?

Getting adequate sleep and managing stress can also help you stay disease-free. Stress can be normal, but it's important to keep it under control, since chronic or long-lasting tension can hurt your health, says Llenos. Excess stress can increase your risk for a number of mental and physical problems, including anxiety, depression, heart disease and weight gain, which lends itself to other complications.  

We can't always prevent stress, but we can dictate how we deal with it. Some stress busters are simpler than you think, including 30 minutes of your favorite exercise, deep breathing, meditating and phoning or emailing a friend or family member. Getting enough sleep can also help relieve stress.

Too little sleep not only affects your mood—it can impact your physical wellbeing. Research has linked inadequate sleep to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Getting the recommended seven to nine nightly hours may be tough, but sleep hygiene techniques can help you snooze more soundly. Putting yourself on a sleep schedule, skipping large meals close to bedtime, nixing caffeine before bed and creating a nighttime sanctuary—a bedroom that's dark, cool and free from electronics—are all proven ways to help you get some shuteye.

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Do I need any screenings?

Routine screenings help detect health problems before they become serious, so being regularly checked for common conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and colon and breast cancers is recommended. "At each stage of life, there are certain preventive screenings recommended to optimize your health," Llenos says.

Screening recommendations vary by age, gender and family and medical history, so it's best to consult your doctor routinely about health tests. Both men and women can benefit from blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, colon cancer and STD checks. Mammograms, bone density scans and Pap tests are recommended for women at particular ages or for those with an increased risk of specific conditions. Men should also discuss prostate cancer screenings with their doctor.

You can play an active role in your health by discussing which screenings could benefit you and when it might be best to have them.

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What vaccinations should I get?

Immunizations are another way to help prevent disease, and children aren't the only ones who need them. Based on your age, medical history and previous vaccinations, your healthcare provider can recommend the right inoculations for you. For instance:

  • Unless otherwise indicated by your doctor, all adults (and children) should receive an annual flu shot.
  • Adults who aren't fully immunized against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis in childhood should receive the adult version of the vaccine, followed by the Td booster every 10 years.
  • Healthy adults aged 50 and older should speak with a provider about the shingles vaccine. Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus as chickenpox; it affects almost one in every three Americans and results in a painful, blistery rash.

Depending on certain factors, you may also receive the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella; the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; and the pneumococcal vaccine—at age 65 or earlier for those with certain risks or conditions.

Review your immunization and medical history with your doctor, who can help you build a safe and effective vaccination schedule.

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How much is this going to cost?

The out-of-pocket cost of your doctor's visit and any subsequent treatment are determined by a host of factors like existing conditions, services—including tests and x-rays—and your insurance coverage. Most health insurance covers some services, but patients are often left responsible for a portion of medical fees. Those without healthcare coverage have a larger burden to bear. Financial assistance may be available to those without insurance or who need help paying for services insurance won’t cover.

"Keep in mind doctors are there to help you optimize your health and wellbeing," Llenos says—and this sometimes means recommending services and treatments that may not be covered by insurance. Since policies vary, it's important to review your benefits to determine which tests, medications and services your insurer will take care of—in full or in part. Discuss the cost of your medical care with your doctor, who can help you determine which procedures and screenings are necessary, and who may be able to recommend financial assistance.

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When should I come back?

As you're wrapping up your doctor's visit, speak with your provider about follow-up appointments. Even healthy adults should see a primary healthcare provider once every year or two—depending on your age and gender—and more frequently if you have conditions that need monitoring. Talk to your physician about which you need and how often.

To help you keep track of information, including recommended screenings and follow-up visits, ask your provider if you can jot down some notes, or bring a friend or relative to help you remember.

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