What Does a Comprehensive Exam Entail?
Well, January 2014 has come and gone. Many of us made New Year’s Resolutions about improving our health but find we have lost that initial burst of enthusiasm to make those resolutions a reality.
Maybe we made resolutions that were too ambitious (run a marathon, become a vegan or find your spiritual center). Maybe we made so many resolutions we are overwhelmed (start an exercise program, eat seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day, floss twice a day, wear sunscreen, eat fiber, drink more water, drink less beer, eat fatty fish and get more sleep). Maybe we made resolutions that we aren’t sure how to keep—improve my health and reduce my stress.
Don’t give up! It’s not too late to get some help to assess your current health status and make a concrete plan with achievable goals. You may not cross the finish line in 2015 but at least you can start your journey.
Cooper Clinic in Dallas has offered comprehensive preventive exams for more than 40 years—and it’s a great way to get a health status baseline and 2014 game plan. While every phase of the physical exam is important, the following six standard components outlined by our expert physicians are critical to providing an accurate, in-depth look at your overall health. These foundational elements are required for new patients.
- Medical Exam & Counseling
- Laboratory Analysis
- Cardiovascular Screening
- Multidetector Computed Tomography (MDCT) Scan
- Skin Cancer Screening
- Nutrition Consultation
In the following series of posts, I will break down each component and discuss why it’s a critical piece of your health status evaluation. Let’s get started with the first component!
Component #1: Medical Exam & Counseling
This part of the preventive medicine exam consists of a review of a completed medical history as well as a thorough physical examination performed by a Cooper Clinic physician. A medical history questionnaire is an important health assessment tool that provides framework from which your health care provider can assess your health and address disease. It gathers important information regarding symptoms, prior medical history, family history, medication use and lifestyle habits (alcohol, diet, smoking, exercise).
A physical examination is an important health assessment tool as well. During the exam, health problems can be detected before they are symptomatic. For example, in one study, the build-up of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries in the legs (called peripheral artery disease), detected by reduced pulses in the feet and ankles, was present in 50 percent of patients who had no symptoms. Early detection of this problem is the only way to control risk factors for the progression of this disease which can cause debilitating symptoms for patients who have risk factors such as smoking or diabetes.
Medical science is complicated. Great medical care requires a partnership between you and your health care provider with comprehensive discussions about your past health, your current clinical status and your goals for preventing disease in the future. The medical history questionnaire and the physical exam are important tools for directing that dialogue.
As a patient, you may not know what symptoms are important to mention to your doctor or you may not remember that you have a symptom until you see it listed. For example, your voice is hoarse now and then but you figure it may just be because of post nasal drip and allergies. It may well be. But if you have a history of smoking and heavy alcohol use, you are at increased risk for cancers in the throat that can cause hoarseness. By reviewing your complete medical history including the presence of chronic diseases, symptoms, lifestyle factors, family history and medication use, your health care provider can decide which symptoms need further evaluation and what treatments might be necessary to elevate symptoms.
Have you ever broken a bone? Some fractures are a function of bad luck (dropping a bowling ball on your foot) but some fractures may be the result of low bone mass (osteoporosis). A history of a so-called fragility fracture (breaking your wrist after tripping over a curb) may trigger your health care provider to screen for osteoporosis and make lifestyle or medication recommendations to strengthen bone.
Some diseases can run in families. This can affect your risk of developing that disease and certainly can effect when your health care provider will start screening you for that disease or treating you for risk factors that increase your risk of developing that disease. For example, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you have an increased risk of having colorectal cancer which can occur earlier in life, sometimes in the 40s or even the 30s. Unless you complete a careful family history in medical history questionnaire, your health care provider won’t know the best strategies for preventing diseases with a genetic predisposition.
Many chronic conditions develop because of poor lifestyle choices. Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor dietary habits and physical inactivity can all sabotage your health. Listing specifics about your alcohol intake or your exercise program is the perfect springboard for a discussion with your health care provider about how to modify those lifestyle choices to enhance your health and prevent disease.
To learn more about a preventive exam at Cooper Clinic, click here or call 866.906.2667 (COOP). Stay tuned for the next component within the exam—laboratory analysis.