3 essential questions to ask your doctor at your next visit

Preventive Care

by Manik Aggarwal, MD

Feb 19, 2019

As Ben Franklin said many moons ago, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When we talk about chronic diseases and cancer, prevention is paramount. We’d much rather prevent on the front end than have to cure.

But what does it look like to take an active role in your preventive care?

It starts with knowing what questions to ask. These are the three most critical questions you should ask your primary care physician during your next office visit.

1. Why do I take the medications that I do?

Being aware of which medications you are on improves your understanding of your own health and facilitates an active discussion with your primary care physician or family medicine doctor. There is usually a distinct reason that you take the medications that you do at the dosage that you have. Understanding the risks, benefits and interactions of these medications empowers you and can lead to a more engaging doctor-patient relationship.

2. What can I do to reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease?

The leading cause of death in our country stems from heart disease and stroke. While this number is slowly declining due to efforts in preventive care and focus on healthier living, the numbers remain staggering. A straightforward approach to assessing your cardiovascular risk is identifying your risk factors.

Your modifiable risk factors, meaning those that you can influence, include: your blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use, diet and level of activity. Your non-modifiable risk factors, the ones that you cannot control, include age, gender and family history.

The first step in determining your personal risk for heart disease is to assess how healthy your lifestyle is and if there is any obvious disease in the family.

The first step in determining your personal risk for heart disease is to assess how healthy your lifestyle is and if there is any obvious disease in the family. The next step is seeing your primary care physician regularly to assess your blood pressure and get screened for diabetes and cholesterol.

For patients that have hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes or high cholesterol, it is critical that you understand your medication regimen and adhere to it. Always be open with your doctor about what’s working and what’s not.

3. Are my cancer screenings up to date?

I hear this sentiment from patients too frequently: “I just wish I had gotten this screening done earlier.” Or, “I wish I had paid more attention to that nagging, uncomfortable sensation that I was feeling.” We all know the toll cancer can take on a person’s life, health and loved ones. You probably know someone who is suffering from the disease today.

Cancer screening guidelines change intermittently, but the basic premise to understand is that screening is based on your age and gender. There are guidelines, but remember that they are only that — guidelines. Talk to your primary care physician about what screening schedule is right for you. Screening for cancer is the easiest investment you can make in your health.

Here are a few key screening guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Everyone should get screened for colon cancer through colonoscopy or novel stool sampling cards starting at the age of 45, unless you have risk factors, including a personal or family history of colon cancer.
  • Smokers should get screened for lung cancer starting at age 55.
  • Women should be screened for cervical cancer starting at 21 years of age, and start getting mammograms starting at age 40 or 50 depending on personal preference and risk factors.
  • Men should have a discussion with their doctor regarding prostate cancer screening starting at the age of 50.

The next time you have an appointment with your primary care provider, I encourage you to have an active discussion about your health. Our goal as physicians is to promote your health, prevent disease and empower you to a healthier life.

Find a doctor today.

About the Author

Dr. Manik Aggarwal is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center. He attended medical school at Texas A&M College of Medicine and completed his residency training at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. His prior training in medical anthropology and public health has set the framework for his practice with an emphasis on patient education, communication and empowerment. His interests focus on health promotion, disease prevention, chronic disease management and medical education.

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