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Why an Annual Physical Exam May Shorten Your Lifespan

Tim Boyer's picture
Physical Exam

In this month’s Consumer Reports on Health, the editors of an article titled “Do you need an annual checkup” find that when it comes to getting your annual physical exam that it―like many other medical procedures―is not absolutely necessary to ensure good health. In fact, they report that seeing your doctor for an annual exam could shorten your lifespan.

The basis of this claim of a prematurely shortened lifespan comes from studies that show that head-to-toe annual checkups will not necessarily help the average (the keyword here is “average”) person live longer or have fewer diseases and problems. Rather, Consumer Reports on Health reports that having your yearly annual exam can result in pulling the trigger for unnecessary follow-up testing and treatment that not only wastes time and money, but poses some risks as well.

These risks were reported from a study published independently by the Cochrane Collaboration―an international network that helps healthcare practitioners, policy-makers, patients, their advocates and their care-givers, make well-informed decisions about health care, by preparing, updating, and promoting the latest analysis of current medical treatments. They found that of a total of 182,880 patients from 14 separate studies that when it comes to the number of overall deaths or deaths from cancer or heart disease, that there is no difference in outcome for those patients who had annual physical exams and those who did not.

Furthermore, they also determined that an annual exam did not lower the number of hospital admissions, the number of doctor visits, disability or time lost from work due to illness. But in fact, their results suggest that an annual exam can lead to health problems due to false alarms or misreading of EKGs that then lead to stress, unnecessary radiation exposure, and inappropriate invasive procedures like angioplasty when a patient did not really need it.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that the annual exam need not be a one-size-fits-all physical. Rather, that a more targeted approach that assesses your age, gender and health beforehand could lead to a varied physical exam that avoids unnecessary stress and treatments. Pap smears for women and PSA blood tests for men are but two examples of procedures not needed by everyone all the time.

So what is a person to do to avoid becoming a patient? The editors of Consumer Reports on Health state that the new way for those who are in good health to approach preventive care is that rather than go for a yearly exam where everything is tested all at once, is to instead have your basics monitored such as blood pressure, weight, emotional health, etc., whenever you see your doctor and discuss with him or her about what is the right kind of tests and treatments for you if any are needed.

As a guide to health tests you should get, Consumer Reports on Health offers the following list of 8 important tests and when you should get them for people who are relatively healthy:

1. Blood Pressure Test: At least every 2 years, but annually if your numbers are above 120/80.

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2. Cervical Cancer Test: A Pap smear every 3 years for women between 21 to 65 years old. Women between 30 to 65 years of age can go every 5 years if they have HPV testing with their Pap smear.

3. Cholesterol Test: At least every 5 years for men 35 and older and for women 45 and older who have coronary risk factors.

4. Diabetes Test: Every 3-5 years for people with any of the following risk factors: a systolic BP over 135 or diastolic over 80; a BMI of 30 or greater; an LDL cholesterol over 130.

5. Mammogram Test: Every 2 years for women aged 50-75. Younger women with risk factors for breast cancer may start earlier depending on their physician’s assessment.

6. Colon Cancer Test: A colonoscopy every 10 years for people ages 50-75.

7. Osteoporosis Test: Only once at age 65 for women and age 70 for men, unless that first test shows that bone density is low and necessitates treatment and follow-up testing to ensure successful results.

8. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Test: Just once for men ages 65 to 75 who have a past history of smoking. More often if that first test shows an abnormality.

For an informative article about how you can assess whether you may be having a developing health problem, click-on the titled link, “8 Warning Signs of Pain When Your Body Is Trying to Tell You Something.”

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: Consumer Reports on Health January 2014 Issue



Well, I think this is interesting. But I think getting checked for diabetes more often would be a very good thing given the incidence of complications, don't you? Plus, rates are soaring and we are generally not the fittest nation. Age increases diabetes risk too and we are definitely an aging population.
This article defies common sense. A good example is the person with un-diagnosed hypertension who goes to a doctor only when he has symptoms. By then a lot of damage is done, which could have prevented with early treatment.