Paper hospital gowns and fluorescent lighting are no substitute for kicking back with beers during the March Madness—but your annual checkup should be about your doc getting to know you. Along with updating vaccinations and some routine testing, talking about your lifestyle and potential risk factors for disease is why you come in for a preventive exam, says Minesh Khatri, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and a general internist at Columbia University Medical Center.
To make the most of your time (and your doc’s), come prepared with a list of questions you know you want answered to help focus the visit, he says. And mention anything that is bothering you—a mole, a sleep problem, a rash, or whatever—at the beginning of the exam, so the doc can address the concern and organize the rest of the visit to make sure it’s taken care of.
1. Any red flags in my family history?
Early heart disease in every generation is probably not a coincidence… Family medical histories help the doc determine future health risks—and may be reason to recommend earlier or more frequent screening for certain conditions. For instance, if there’s a strong history of colon cancer in the family, regular colonoscopies should start earlier than the recommended age of 50, Khatri says.
The more info you can share with your M.D., the better. Most important to note are major illness or diagnoses in primary relatives (parents, sibling, and children) and being aware of any unusual trends in more distant relatives (aunts, uncles, and grandparents). The doc will likely ask about cancer and heart disease, but it’s also helpful to point out conditions like arthritis, diabetes, or depression.