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How the Annual Physical focuses on your health

Jennifer Myszkowski, MD

An annual physical examination can be a source of reassurance that you are as healthy as you feel. They are a time to review your health issues, check for illness, and screen for diseases. Annual exams, appropriate immunizations, and screening tests are covered by almost all health insurance plans.

Patients who know what to expect at an annual exam are more at ease and get more out of the appointment. Annual exams usually include:

History. This is your chance to mention any complaints or concerns about your health. Your doctor will ask you about lifestyle behaviors like smoking, alcohol and drug use, sexual health, diet, and exercise. Questions to check for depression are reviewed. The doctor will also check on your vaccinations and update your personal and family medical history.

Blood pressure: Less than 120/80 is a normal blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is 140 over 90 or higher.

Height and weight to calculate the body mass index. Your body mass index determines which screening tests are right for you.

Laboratory Tests: There are no standard laboratory tests during an annual physical. Your physician will decide which tests are needed for you and how often. Blood tests can check your risk of heart disease and look for diabetes or prediabetes. Everybody should be screened for the HIV virus at least once and baby boomers should be screened for Hepatitis C.

Prevention and screening: At age 40, a blood test to check for diabetes is recommended if you are overweight or obese. Testing your cholesterol starts now. At age 50, it's time to begin regular screening for colorectal cancer. People with immediate family members with colorectal cancer may need to be screened before age 50. If you are at high risk for heart attacks and strokes, aspirin may help decrease the chance you will get these diseases. A CT scan to screen for lung cancer starts at age 55 if you are or were a smoker.

For some women, age 40 marks the time to begin annual mammogram screening for breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about possible benefits and risks to starting mammography before age 50. There are additional tests available for people who are at high risk for breast cancer. Pap smear testing to check for cervical cancer starts when you are 21 years old. Yearly pap smears are no longer needed for screening. Testing for infections passed through sexual intercourse can be done at the same time as the Pap smear. If you can become pregnant, the vitamin folic acid is recommended to prevent birth defects. Questions about your home life and your relationships will be asked to help keep you and your family safe. Once you are 65, bone density tests are recommended to check for osteoporosis.

For those with Medicare: Medicare will cover a yearly “wellness exam.” This is a very specific visit and is not like the yearly physical you were used to before you had Medicare insurance. This visit must be scheduled as a “Medicare wellness exam.” You will not get to talk about your health concerns, rather your history will be reviewed and updated. Any Medicare covered test or screening test will be ordered if it is right for you and can include cholesterol and diabetes testing, checking for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, recommendations for medicine and exercises to reduce your chance of falling

For children and teens: A lot of the yearly exam is focused on education and prevention. Immunizations are also very important in preventing illness and cancer. Exercise recommendations are much more than for adults. Learning about good health habits now, including protecting yourself from skin cancer, will prevent problems later in life.

Healthy behaviors work far better than medicine at preventing illness, and don't require a prescription:

  • Do 30 minutes of brisk walking or other exercise most days of the week (at least 150 minutes a week). Add in strength training exercises at least twice a week. Your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and some types of cancer will fall dramatically.
  • Eat a mostly plant-based diet, low in animal fats.
  • Learn stress management techniques to help you cope better with life stressors.
  • Above all, don't smoke.

Call the Richland Medical Center today to schedule an annual physical for you and your family so you can worry less and live well.


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.