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It’s not uncommon for patients to go to the doctor only when they are feeling ill. However, receiving an annual physical is crucial for maintaining good overall health and monitoring your risk for certain illnesses and diseases. Visiting your doctor at least once a year can help prevent life-threatening diseases, as well as help you stay on top of your health.

What to expect at an annual physical

Essentially, an annual physical is a general examination of your overall health. Your doctor will look at your health history and then will check your vital signs, such as heart rate, temperature and blood pressure. The doctor will also perform a comprehensive physical exam during the visit.

Depending on your age and health, your doctor may also review and order additional tests.  These could include lab work, like cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.  It may also include imaging tests for osteoporosis, lung cancer and breast cancer screening.  Other forms of cancer screening that are likely to be discussed include colon cancer screening for those over 50 and regular pap smears to screen for cervical cancer in women.

Your doctor will be able to check for common age-related issues and make plans for treatment if necessary.
During a physical exam, you can also consult your doctor about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle by asking about diet, exercise and other lifestyle recommendations. These important topics usually don’t arise when you’re seeing the doctor to treat a specific ailment.

The visit is also a great time to get up-to-date with CDC-recommended immunizations to avoid illness.
Sometimes, in a single visit, there may not enough time to discuss all of the above items and to also talk about worsening chronic medical problems or new concerning symptoms or lab results.  Follow up visits to further discuss these other concerns may be necessary.

Getting the most out of your visit

If you’re only visiting your doctor once a year, make sure to get the most out of your visit by being aware of and sharing your family’s medical history. If someone in your family was diagnosed with a disease or cancer, tell your doctor.

Also, bring a list or a bag of all the medications and supplements that you take. This will help your doctor screen for possible drug interactions and ensure that you are taking the proper dosage for prescribed medications.
If you have noticed changes in your wellbeing, don’t be afraid to bring them up – even if they seem minor. Some examples would be changes in sleeping patterns, appetite or mood.  Don’t neglect your mental health by only focusing on physical aspects of your health.

If you haven’t visited your doctor in a while, consider making an appointment for a physical exam.  In many cases, your insurance company may also provide a financial incentive for this important component of maintaining your health.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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