Prevent Avoidable Chronic Conditions and Disease with an Annual Wellness Visit

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What is the biggest risk factor for many diseases? It’s one we can’t avoid – age.

As the molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon notes, “You are 100 times more likely to get a tumor at age 65 than age 35.” You are also far more likely to have a heart attack in your 50s than in your 20s.

In medicine, we know at which age a person’s likelihood of disease goes dramatically up. That is why preventive screenings are suggested beginning at a certain age, depending on your gender and the illness – medical evidence shows precisely when that is.

Frequently, you’ll read stories of people’s lives being saved by screenings. But we could save more lives if more people got screened.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that if everyone in this country received recommended clinical preventive care – of which screenings are a big part – we could save more than 100,000 lives each year. Screenings also lead to early diagnosis and treatment, which will improve your quality of life and lower medical costs.

First Thing To Do: Find a PCP

The first thing to do if you don’t have a primary care physician is to find one. When you develop a relationship with a primary care physician, you won’t have to remember at what age you need which screening, because the doctor’s office will let you know in person, or follow up via email, phone call or text.

It’s important to have a wellness exam with your doctor every year, to make sure you are healthy, to find signs that might indicate you are not, or that you are on the verge of a medical condition that could still be avoided.

And – this is important – under many medical plans, this wellness visit is at no cost to you. Check with your provider to be sure.

Preventing Acute and Chronic Conditions

We know that it is human nature to feel invincible, especially if you have never before had a serious illness, and if those around you have been healthy. But changes in our health can creep up on us as a result of stress, genetics or, as mentioned, just getting older. Those changes can happen quickly, with little or no warning.

Your yearly wellness exam can prevent acute conditions and the development of chronic diseases. Depending on your age, the components of this wellness exam may be quite different. Your physician will ask age-appropriate screening questions as well as order certain screening tests and immunizations.

Your annual wellness exam will include diabetes and blood pressure screenings.

Other screenings that may be appropriate:

  • An annual lung cancer screening for those 55 to 80 years old who have a 30-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • A colon cancer screening at 45. You’ll follow up with another every three, five or 10 years depending on findings.
  • Beginning at age 20 until age 74, a cardiovascular risk assessment every four to six years.

Women should get a breast cancer screening beginning at 40, and every one to two years thereafter, based on a discussion between the patient and provider. Between the ages of 21 to 65, they should have a cervical cancer screening every three years, or as recommended by their physician.

Men between the ages of 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should get a one-time test for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Many of us excel at giving care to others – our children, our spouses and our extended families. It’s just as important to take care of yourself, and getting an annual wellness exam is a powerful way to do so.

Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, is Chief Clinical Transformation and Quality Officer at University Hospitals.

Related Links

The best time to find a primary care doctor? Before you actually need one. It’s never too early to start preventive care. Long-term patient-doctor relationships help create long-term health. Learn more about primary care at University Hospitals and find a provider who suits your health care needs and those of your loved ones. Also, learn more about where to go, based on your illness, injury or condition.

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