Going to the doctor can be stressful. Whether for a general exam or a specific health problem, there is often so much information to process that we forget to ask questions. There's also the fact that many of us are uncomfortable talking about certain health issues, like memory loss or bowel problems.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a silly question or a health problem that's too small to discuss. Keep in mind that your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant needs the whole picture to provide you with the best care.
Whatever your situation, remember that communication is a two-way street and is key for a meaningful relationship with your doctor. Not sure where to start? Write down a list of questions and bring them to your appointment. Here are a few important questions to ask at your next checkup:
1. What screenings or tests do I need?
Most people have a family health history of at least one chronic disease. If you have a close relative with cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, you're more likely to develop that condition yourself. Before your appointment, gather your family health history, but don't stop at immediate family members. You should also include nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, half-siblings, and grandparents. Bring that information to your next appointment to help your provider determine what tests or screenings you may need based on your risk factors.
2. How much should I weigh?
Maintaining a healthy weight benefits your health in more ways than one. Weight guidelines based on age and height can help you determine your ideal weight range, but it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. Discuss your weight concerns with your primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Your health care provider will consider your lifestyle and existing health issues or medications that may contribute to weight gain or loss. Your body mass index, or BMI, can also help you understand if you fall within a healthy weight category. Be sure to ask your provider about your BMI weight status and what you can do to maintain a healthy weight.
3. Do I need to make any lifestyle changes?
Your daily habits can have a significant effect on your health. If you sit too much, your doctor may recommend more exercise to lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, and other conditions. Starting small and making incremental changes to your lifestyle can make a world of difference.
4. Should I keep taking this medicine or supplement?
Our bodies and health needs are constantly changing, especially as we age. Ensure your primary care physician has a list of your current prescriptions, and ask if your current medications or treatments are still working or necessary. Also, tell your doctor if you've begun a new treatment or added supplements recently so they can determine if they interfere with anything you're taking. Remember, drug interactions can make medications less effective or cause side effects.
5. Is this pain or discomfort normal?
Minor pain or discomfort is usually nothing to worry about, but anything that lingers is worth checking out. If your pain or discomfort doesn't go away with over-the-counter medication, bring it up at your next appointment. Your pain could be a sign of something serious.
6. How often should I get a checkup?
All adults should visit their provider occasionally, even if they are healthy. That's because regular checkups can help prevent problems in the future. Remember, conditions like high cholesterol and hypertension often come with no symptoms. In general, healthy people should get physical every two years. Older adults and those with one or more chronic conditions should see their provider more often, at least once a year. Patients 65 or older enrolled in Medicare are eligible for one free annual wellness visit.
7. How do I access my medical records and test results?
Many providers now offer easy and convenient online access to test results, after-visit summaries, upcoming appointments, and more. Online access is usually free, but you must set up a free account. Next time you're at your doctor's office, ask about patient portal access to track appointments, view test results, and message your provider.
8. Are my feelings of sadness or anxiety normal?
You should always ask about your mental health, especially if you notice changes in how you feel or act. Examples include difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, concentrating, or losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. We all experience difficult emotions, but if these changes last more than two weeks, seeking help is essential. Think of optimal mental health as a necessary means to physical health.
9. Should I worry about my family's medical history?
There's no need to panic if certain conditions run in your family, but you should collect your family history and share it with your physician. That information is vital and can help your provider develop a prevention plan and screening schedule for you.
Being honest and forthcoming with your primary care provider is essential. Your doctor or other health care providers can be like a teacher, a cheerleader, and an advocate, all in one person. You can take the first step by finding your clinical partner on your journey toward better health.
What Should I Ask My Doctor During a Checkup? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
Talking With Your Doctor: MedlinePlus
Make the most of your doctor visit: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Talking With Your Doctor or Health Care Provider | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Physical exam frequency: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Patient portals - an online tool for your health: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia