Let's Get a Physical?
What would you recommend be included in an annual physical examination for a healthy 42-year-old? I've been trying to find information on this, but have been having trouble doing so.
You don't say whether you're a man or a woman, so I'll answer for everyone. I'm not really a believer in general physicals every year, but if you've never had a physical exam or haven't had one in a long while, it's worth getting one done. Healthy people in their 20s and 30s don't have to worry much about annual exams, but it would be a good idea to have one done at some point as a baseline to compare with later. General physicals become important as you enter your 40s and 50s; then it makes sense to think about doing exams on a more regular basis.
The procedure should include both a history - your description of your health history and any problems - and a physical examination by a doctor. It's important that you talk to your doctor about anything that troubles you about your health. You might want to bring a list of things you have questions about. (In addition to physical health, you should talk to your doctor about any emotional or psychological difficulties.) Remember, most doctors are working under factory-like conditions these days, and you've got to make sure you get the attention you're there for. Be an assertive patient.
There are standard items that should be included in the physical part of the exam. There may be other tests, depending on your medical history. Usually the doctor will start with pulse and blood pressure and a check of your heart, lungs, and lymph nodes.
For anyone in their 40s, the visit should include a rectal examination, plus a stool sample to test for blood. For women, the exam should include a vaginal examination and a pap smear. Women should go every two years for a pap smear (to check for cancer of the cervix), a breast exam, and a pelvic exam.
There is also a standard battery of blood tests that should be done, including a complete blood count and an SMAC 20. I would also include a complete lipid panel to determine cholesterol and other blood fats. Your urine should be sampled for testing, too.
Men over 50 should have a screening test, or PSA, which screens for prostate cancer, and a cardiogram, or EKG, if one hasn't been taken. Women should have a mammogram at age 50, and possibly a baseline one earlier. You might think about it earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer or any reason to think you're at higher risk. But it's not at all clear that a mammogram before age 50 will provide any useful information.