The Other Annual Visit Women Can’t Afford to Miss
November 25, 2022
Most women understand the value of seeing an OB/GYN physician every year for their reproductive health. But is it really necessary to see a primary care provider (PCP) each year as well?
“An annual wellness exam by your primary care provider is absolutely essential, because a woman’s health involves much more than her gynecologic health,” says University Hospitals primary care physician Viktoriya Katsnelson, MD.
“Prevention is a major part of your overall health. It’s important to have a complete physical exam to address your whole health. Your PCP’s primary goal is to find, prevent and treat – or help you manage – health issues early, before they become major or life-threatening.”
Essential Care from Your PCP
With annual visits to your PCP, you can stay on top of your overall health and get access to the preventive care you need for ongoing wellness. A PCP helps women navigate their total health and well-being in a variety of ways.
A physical exam is a head-to-toe check-up. Basics such as weight, height, reflexes, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and oxygen level check for issues from infections to heart palpitations. Examining your ears, eyes, nose, throat and skin, the doctor may find problems from cataracts to cancer. Palpating – or touching – certain key areas of your body, the doctor examines internal organs, evaluates responses, and checks for unusual lumps or swelling to discover problems, possibly even before you have symptoms or experience a health issue.
The blood and urine labs your PCP orders evaluate crucial health factors including cholesterol levels, body chemistry, organ function, and pathogens that cause disease. When found early, the results of these tests allow your doctor to diagnose imbalances that cause heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic health problems. Early treatment can manage these problems before they worsen and perhaps even prevent them before they start.
Screenings and Tests
Based on your age, health status and family history, the screenings and tests your PCP orders can discover and diagnose problems early when they are more easily treated. For example, colonoscopy and mammography look for early signs of cancer, and low-dose lung cancer screenings are available for former or current smokers. Bone density scans screen for osteoporosis, electrocardiograms and stress tests evaluate heart health, and a sleep test can assess insomnia or sleep apnea.
For everything from measles, whooping cough, hepatitis, polio, shingles, pneumonia and HPV to tetanus, flu, COVID-19 and others, vaccines cause the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight disease. Your PCP tracks your records and provides these vaccines at the right times to keep you from getting ill with highly-transmissible, debilitating and sometimes deadly illnesses.
“Weight is an extremely critical health factor,” says Dr. Katnelson, who holds additional board certification in obesity management. “Obesity brings a higher risk for hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, chronic back pain, sleep apnea and more, even infertility. And it’s important to know that obesity is the second most preventable cause of cancer.”
Obesity is linked to multiple types of cancer including cancer of the liver, bladder, stomach, pancreas, colon, ovaries, cervix, uterus, breast and thyroid, as well as leukemia, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and others. If you have weight problems, your doctor will provide the ongoing advice, prescriptive and dietary care, or referrals you need to lose and/or manage your weight to prevent a myriad of health problems.
Your lifestyle – diet, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco products – is a huge factor in your health status. From weight loss to smoking cessation, your PCP’s care and counseling can help you make positive changes for better health.
Your family and personal health history tell your PCP what to watch for, prevent and treat, early on, before they worsen. These might include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, different types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and many others.
Because mental health affects physical health and overall wellness, your PCP can provide treatment for depression and, if needed, refer you to other providers with specific expertise in other areas of mental health.
Referrals, Scheduling, Care Coordination
If a health issue requires a specialist, your PCP can send you to a provider who has the expertise you need. Your PCP coordinates your care with other providers and can help schedule appointments for screenings, tests and specialists.
Whatever your age or stage of life, prevention is the best medicine. That's why it’s important to see your primary care provider for age-appropriate screenings and vaccinations that can prevent disease. Learn more.
Need a primary care provider? Use our easy online tool to find a PCP and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.