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Mon, Oct. 21

Get the most out of your annual medical exam

You typically have less than 15 to 20 minutes of one-on-one time with your doctor when you go in for a checkup, so being prepared is key to making the most of your visit. Create a partnership with your doctor with the mutual goal of maximizing your health. Just as he or she prepared by attending medical school, it's your job as a patient to prepare yourself for appointments.

Important tests and screenings

Your doctor will know what screenings are necessary based on your age, health history and risk factors. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, these may include:

• General health checkup. Includes height and weight, beginning at age 18.

• Blood pressure test. At least every two years, beginning at age 18.

• Cholesterol test. Every five years, beginning at age 45. Earlier or more frequent screenings may be recommended based on family history or test results.

• Bone mineral density test. Begin discussing with your doctor at age 40.

• Diabetes test. Talk with your doctor at age 18. If you have no risk factors, begin screenings at age 45, then have the test every three years.

• Clinical breast exam and mammogram. Every year, beginning at age 40.

• Pap test and pelvic exam. Every one to three years after becoming sexually active or at age 21.

And remember, you're never too old for an annual exam. Many women past their childbearing years may think a trip to the gynecologist is no longer necessary. But women of all ages are at risk for gynecological conditions, many of which are preventable. Seeing a doctor regularly can help keep you healthy.

Ensuring clear communication

Be prepared. Before your appointment, make notes about anything you'd like to discuss with your doctor. Be sure to include any particular concerns, such as questions about medications or increased risk factors or family history that might be worth mentioning. Jotting a few notes can help you remember what to bring up during the appointment.

Be honest with your doctor. The most important thing to remember during your annual exam is to be up-front and honest. Tell the truth about your diet, exercise, family history and lifestyle choices to ensure a thorough and accurate assessment of your health risks. In addition, remember to ask questions. Take a notebook with you, and write down any important information so you can remember it later.

Share your health goals. Help make your doctor/patient relationship a partnership and work with your physician to meet your health goals. For example, are you trying to lose weight? Thinking about quitting smoking? Your doctor can provide helpful information and valuable resources to help you meet these ambitions.

Working together

Think of your annual exam as an opportunity for an open, honest discussion with your doctor. Taking the right preventive steps today can help ensure a healthy tomorrow.

Fear the reaper, not the doctor

Men die at higher rates than women for nine of the top 10 causes of death. Generally speaking, however, men are less likely than women to visit the doctor on a regular basis. That's unfortunate, because tests and screenings can guide men in taking preventive steps to stay healthy.

Important screenings for men of all ages include blood pressure and cholesterol tests, diabetes screenings, digital rectal exams and PSA tests for prostate health, testicular exams and colorectal screenings. These exams and regular checkups can help diagnose health concerns in the early stages, when they are most treatable.

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