An annual health check up is a procedure performed every year to ensure a person’s good health is maintained, and to diagnose or detect abnormalities in a patient's body with/without symptoms. Also known as annual health examination, or annual physical health assessment, this procedure could predict the probability of occurrence of any disease.
Various factors such as personal medical history, family history, lifestyle, vital signs, Body Mass Index (BMI), etc are considered and relevant tests/procedures are prescribed accordingly. A patient’s health history sheds light upon the ways through which existing disease conditions can be treated/controlled. Having a family history also helps explain the risk of certain diseases manifesting in the future, specifically ones that presented commonly among the patient's close family members.
The physical examination delivers highly valuable data on a person’s basic health. Lab tests provide even more data by analyzing the chemical components of body fluids. To summarize, an annual health check up eases overall, long term patient treatment by helping the physician rule out some medical conditions and/or take precautionary measures for conditions with a high probability of occurrence.
Reports from lab tests are the primary requirement for the physician to evaluate a patient’s overall health conditions. The most common health parameters are measured from blood and urine samples.
The most common lab tests performed during an annual health check up are :
Basic lab tests from blood and urine samples
Kidney Function Panel
Lipid profile tests
Liver function panel
Vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes
Eye and ear wellness
Listed below are the most common conditions that doctors screen for –
Annual health check ups are recommended for everyone above the age of 35. Individuals who are at risk for major health disorders such as cardiac abnormalities, diabetes, or cancer, must start screening earlier. Possessing a family history of any disease raises the probability of developing one in the future. Lifestyle changes and living conditions also add weight to the chances of acquiring such diseases.
It is never too late to start signing up for annual health check ups. Some conditions may never show up with any symptoms but may be found during annual health check ups. This helps to formulate an early and better treatment plan, making the whole journey of recovery easier when compared to conditions that are diagnosed only after symptoms have advanced.
Annual health check ups also assist preventive health care by reducing the onset of any disease by taking precautionary measures, even before they fully manifest. This can be achieved by following the doctor’s advice post annual health check ups such as following a prescribed diet plan to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, for example.
Annual health check ups help to assess health risks by enabling the physician to highlight certain parameters associated with the patient’s lifestyle. For example, a stressed professional with no work-life balance might be at high risk for cardiovascular diseases. Smoking/alcohol, lack of physical exercise, and an unhealthy diet raise the risk factors. The doctor could correlate the results from annual health check ups with the patient’s risk factors to come up with a better treatment plan.
The primary goal of annual health check ups is the prevention of diseases before they develop, early detection of diseases after their onset, and a better treatment plan by assessing the patient's health risks (genetic factors, lifestyle, etc). Even if the patient feels perfectly healthy, age and other risk factors call for action. Being symptomless does not mean the absence of any disease.
Annual health check ups are also recommended for couples before marriage. This might help pave way for a smooth relationship thereafter. A family can be difficult to build and maintain, and being aware of you and your partner’s health risks as you begin one will help keep you prepared.
Following a pre-marital health check up, the couple may choose to wait or carry on with their big decision. Discussions with a well-qualified physician will help the couple better make an informed decision for their future.
Pre-marital health check ups screen individuals for genetic diseases, sexually transmissible and infectious diseases. If one or both of the partners carry genetically transmissible diseases such as thalassemia, then there is a risk of having offspring with such a disorder. Genetic disorders may not always show adverse symptoms in a parent, but may be potentially harmful to the child. Other risks that could be avoided with a pre-marital health check up are the transmission of STDs such as HIV, HBV, etc.
The same reason holds true for taking a pre-pregnancy screening. This will in turn measure capacity for a biological female to carry offspring. Any abnormalities can be detected beforehand and treated so that the patient need not suffer post-pregnancy/childbirth.
Annual health check ups assist the early detection of any disease that prevails with little or no symptoms. Obviously, this enhances subsequent treatment plans and leads to a speedy recovery. The patient might be able to experience a smooth recovery period with early detection and in some cases, accurate predictions of diseases that may manifest in the future. To that end, annual health checkups may also potentially provide patients with peace of mind.
As every coin has two sides, the highly recommended annual check ups do have certain disadvantages. They may turn unfavorable for those who receive unexpected results, resulting in anxiety and worries. Practically, people with very few or no risk factors at all look forward to a clean sheet post annual health check up. Unfavorable results, if found, would create stress and anxiety. At times, errors may also occur which might result in the patient being recommended unnecessary follow-up procedures.
The first part of any health check up is the monitoring of vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate. Most of the abnormalities can be diagnosed from these vital signs as they are literally ‘vital’, offering core information on normal body function that helps represent a person’s overall health.
A physical examination is also required, examining certain physiological functions of the patient’s body. The patient is directly and closely examined by a qualified physician. Inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation are some of the various segments of physical examination. Body Mass Index (BMI) calculated from height and weight presents valuable information on the patient's current health status and risks of developing any disease in the future.
General health checks such as mammograms and tumor marker tests also help to screen for cancer. EKG, Echos, and lipid profile tests etc., may be used to detect cardiac abnormalities and other chronic conditions. A medical history also provides an overview of the patient’s past medical history as well as family history. This information is derived from the previous reports or verbal statements from the patient.
Common lab tests prescribed for annual health checkups are blood and urine analysis, stool examination, kidney and liver function tests, lipid profile tests, thyroid tests, and hormone tests.
Common medical imaging tests performed in annual health check ups are chest X-rays, whole abdomen ultrasounds, and digital mammograms.
Cancer screening tests are tumor marker tests such as AFP, CEA, PSA, and CA 19-9.
There are a few points to remember while preparing for annual health check ups
After obtaining the test reports, the patient proceeds to consult the doctor. The reports are carefully analyzed before making any decision. If abnormal values are present, the doctor will provide advice regarding diet, lifestyle modifications, and medications. This constitutes a major part of the treatment plan.
Sometimes the doctor may request a re-test for any particular parameter. This is to rule out ‘false positives’ and ‘false negatives’. A false positive result means the test shows the presence of a disorder which does not actually exist. On the other hand, a false negative result denies the presence of a particular disease that the patient actually has.
If the test results come back unfavorably, the doctor may first take a session to explain the condition clearly to the patient. Repeated tests are conducted if required. The next step is the treatment plan in which the doctor lists out the needed medications and other therapies. The patient is advised to follow the treatment plan and is requested to return at specified regular intervals.
Annual health check ups are generally safe with no painful procedures. The only risk they carry is the onset of anxiety that can exist even after the procedure. In rare cases, misdiagnosis may occur due to incorrect values. Mostly, the physician might be able to detect discrepancies and request a re-check. Upon misdiagnosis, the patient might face multiple trials of lab tests or unnecessary radiation exposure. Side effects with adverse reactions are extremely rare.
How do I choose a particular package of health check up?
Annual health check up plans come in different packages. Every medical facility offers different types of annual health check ups that vary mainly in terms of age, gender, and major illnesses.
The first step in the process of choosing a plan is checking for the list of tests covered. If the patient already has chronic diseases, then packages that are particularly designed for such conditions must be chosen.
If a person has a known family history of any chronic disease, then he/she might choose a package covering it. Plans can also be chosen based on the various risk factors a person carries in developing a disease. In other cases, plans may be chosen based on gender and age.
How do I overcome stress and anxiety before the procedure?
It is common to experience anxiety or feel nervous before any health check up. The most common reasons are – fear of facing abnormal health parameters, being anxious of criticism from doctors regarding an unhealthy lifestyle, worrying that conditions may go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed. Patients may also simply be uncomfortable, whether from a fear of needles, blood or any other part of the examination. The following tips may help overcome stress and anxiety before health check ups:
How might I react to unfavorable results?
It may seem unfortunate to receive news of any medical condition that wasn’t expected. Be optimistic that it is better to find out beforehand rather than remain undiagnosed.
Request a second opinion or double-check before confirming. This will rule out the possibility of misdiagnosis. Try to adhere to the treatment plan as much as possible. Always remind yourself that you are not alone and never hesitate to seek help anytime.
How do I follow up with a physician following the annual health check up?
Choose a physician with whom you are comfortable, as the follow-up visits may extend for a longer time in the case of aged patients. Schedule visits in regular intervals and is consistent in reporting. Follow all guidelines and prescriptions as this may enable both the physician and yourself throughout your journey towards a healthy life.
Are self-monitors at home reliable?
Following annual health check ups, you may choose to use self-operable medical devices such as glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors, drug delivery systems, etc. It’s best to discuss home care with your doctor, where you’ll receive advice and assistance however needed.