Have you filled out your lifetime warranty card? The one that guarantees that your body will perform for the duration of your lifetime — as long as you perform the preventive and standard maintenance required along the way?
Cars, computers and even curling irons come with warranties and instructions. But what preventive measures should you take that could save your life?
Celebrities David Letterman and Steven Spielberg have both had widely publicized surgeries following routine exams. And some experts say these examples illustrate why everyone should have routine health screenings.
Although scheduling an appointment may be inconvenient or anxiety-inducing, routine checkups can help doctors identify and monitor your symptoms and medical conditions — those you are experiencing and those that may be hiding in your family album.
“An accepted standard for a healthy male over age 50, is to get an annual physical,” said Dr. Robert Harris, former chief of Neurosurgery at the National Naval Medical Center and medical director of drkoop.com. “Depending on one’s risk factors — like Letterman with a strong family history of heart disease — annual physicals may be important even earlier.”
This guideline has worked well for two celebrities who recently benefited from regular checkups. David Letterman, 52, had a quintuple bypass in January after an angiogram found his coronary arteries were constricted. Letterman said he had the angiogram because he has high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease.
Steven Spielberg, also 52, had a kidney removed early this week after an “irregularity” was found during an early evaluation.
“The good news here is that reports say that Mr. Spielberg caught this early, before it caused a much more serious problems. He is very involved with the Cedar-Sinai Medical Center and he knows the value of regular checkups,” said Dr. Bruce Hensel, chief medical correspondent for drkoop.com.
“This just shows that being informed about the screening tests that you need, and taking a preventive approach, can help you live a long and healthy life.”
Doctors recommend that women should begin visiting a gynecologist and having annual pelvic exams when they become sexually active or are 20 years old. Women should consider seeing an internist when they begin to experience menopausal symptoms or reach 50.
Men should begin annual checkups at 50 as well, when their risks for heart disease, stroke and prostate cancer increase, according to Dr. Harris.
With more and more research showing a link between one’s genetic makeup and future medical problems, knowing your family medical history is becoming increasingly important.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to know what their medical history is, as far as they can determine,” said Dr. Harris. “Nowadays, with all the resources we have, people ought to know what their history is. If you don’t, it’s worthwhile to determine this from family and relatives.”
By knowing what parts of their family history indicate potential problems, patients can be cautious and doctors can closely monitor for the more ominous implications of trivial complaints.
“Not everyone, for example, gets a urinalysis,” Dr. Harris said. “You wouldn’t get one in your annual physical unless your family history suggested this test, or unless you suddenly started had complaints referrable to the genitourinary system.”
Paying attention to your body and the symptoms you are experiencing is important, but some symptoms do not appear until the problem is critical. If you know your family history, you may be able to catch these problems before they progress.
Dr. Harris also used the example of chest pain – a symptom that can lead to heart attack. “Instead of just blowing it off or dismissing it as heartburn, someone with a family history should be following up,” he said.
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