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September 19, 2011

Check-Up Monday

Periodic health check-ups and screenings with your health care provider are key to maximizing your chance of living a longer and healthier life. Not only can they help prevent health problems before they start, but regular check-ups may also help you discover health problems early enough to increase your chances of successful treatment and recovery.

The specific screenings and exams you need will depend on your age, health, family history and lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and smoking. Age- and gender-specific recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org) can be easily accessed and understood using the My Health Finder tool at http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/myhealthfinder.aspx. This tool offers guidelines for how often and for what health areas you should seek physician advice.

After scheduling an appointment based on your recommended preventive practices, take a few minutes to prepare adequately by following the tips below.

First, consider any new health conditions that have arisen in family members since your last visit. Discuss these with your health care provider, as your family history may increase your risk for certain chronic diseases. Knowing your risk factors may help in the analysis of the health variables discussed below. You should also be ready to discuss how much alcohol you drink, how much you smoke, if you have smoke detectors in your home, if you wear seat belts, etc.

Second, remind yourself of when you last had general screenings and vaccinations. Be prepared to discuss the last time you were screened for common health conditions such as high blood pressure; high cholesterol; diabetes; colorectal, breast, cervical, or skin cancer; as well as STDs. You should also check to make sure you know when you had all your immunizations. Learn about the specific procedures you may undergo, and prepare for them accordingly. If there is one screening that your doctor does not mention or conduct, be sure to ask him/her about it during your appointment.

Third, review your current health problems, including any signs or symptoms you have noticed that are causing you concern, and write them down before your appointment. Note lumps and skin changes, pain, dizziness, fatigue, urine or stool problems, menstrual cycle changes, depression, anxiety, trauma, distress, or sleeping problems. Write down when each change began, how it is different, and any other observations you may have.

You should also be ready to discuss a variety of other concerns you have. Traveling abroad, undergoing infertility treatment, beginning a hazardous job, and starting a rigorous fitness routine are all examples of plans you may want to relay to your provider in order to make the healthiest and safest choices when doing so. In addition, if you want to lose weight, quit smoking, or change any other habit that you believe is not allowing you to be in good health, you should bring this up at the visit.

Most importantly, be completely open with your health care provider during your check-up. Don't fudge the description of your dietary choices, medication routine, or exercise habits, as these can influence the guidance and advice that you will get. Only with the most accurate and up-to-date information can your check-up provide you the most benefits.

For more information on preventive health for adults, go to http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/adultrec.htm, and on check-ups, visit http://www.cdc.gov/family/checkup/. See http://www.jhsph.edu/healthymonday/2011/03142011_family_history.html for more information on family health history.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining health lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.