The Single Diaries’ guide to annual health care
My April horoscope warned me that I would have to pay special attention to my health and schedule any appointments that I may have neglected. When I read it, the dentist was the first thing that came to mine but I would find out soon enough that I had developed a condition that would change my current life path. I went through a mental checklist of the standard medical appointments I should cover. After chatting with a friend I realized I was actually more on top of my health and more informed about my care than other people my age. With the help of new medical graduate Veronica Esmero, I have put together a quick guide for annual health care: who you need to see, what you need to keep top of mind, and where to go for extra resources… if you don’t have a direct line to a nurse. [Happy Nurses Week!]
Checking in with a GP every year helps you find the base of your body’s regular rhythm. You will have access to records to make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccinations, and they will be able to detect any abnormalities early. When you go in for your annual check-up, it’s helpful to come with a list of questions or concerns that may have come up (sun spots or concerning moles, chronic pain or soreness, change in energy or mood, etc.). Voicing your concerns helps your doctor offer advice or a more serious diagnosis along with next steps (including seeing a specialist—dermatologist, pulmonologist, ophthalmologist, etc.—if necessary). Make the most of your visit, and remember that a lot of practitioners may not necessarily ask you specifics about your general health so it’s up to you to take the initiative.
Blood Test: This is probably the most important part of your visit—checking that your body is in full working order.
What does it test for? Everything! Diabetes, high cholesterol, vitamin D and iron levels (note that deficiency in each of these is very common in women in their 20s), STDs, HIV (you may have to request the testing for the last two)
Flu Shot: You may end up with a cold or virus during flu season, but if you vaccinate for the flu you will avoid this terrible (and sometimes life-threatening) infection. Aim for September/October as it takes about 8 weeks for the vaccine to reach its full potential. If you have asthma or are pregnant, it’s a must.
Tetanus Booster: These are good for ten years. If you were on top of your vaccinations as a child, your first adult one should happen toward the end of your college years. If you’re unsure, it doesn’t hurt to request one!
HPV Vaccination: A decade ago all doctors were making sure young women were receiving the then-new HPV vaccine. If you haven’t been vaccinated, make sure you start the three-part series at your next appointment.
Many GPs are equipped to perform breast exams, a Pap Smear and test for STDs/HIV, but your gynecologist is THE resource for sexual, reproductive, and overall women’s health. Choose to see your gyno annually if you want to discuss your sexual health in depth (i.e. trying out new birth control, testing/screening when active with a new partner, discussing safer sex). If you feel more comfortable with your gyno than with your GP, you can decide to discuss other health issues with her (and she can refer accordingly). It is especially important to be honest at this appointment about your sexual history and activity so they can facilitate proper tests.
Pap Smear: After you turn 21 (or sooner if you are sexually active), you should get a pap smear at least once every 3 years. Unless your results are abnormal, you do not have to get one every year.
*Your GP may also be able to perform a pap smear; find out before your annual appointment to avoid multiple co-pay charges!
What does it test for? Cervical cancer (including HPV)
As dreadful as your childhood dentist may have been (speaking from my own experience), pleasant adult dentists do exist. If you don’t like your current dentist, try a new one; I promise you it doesn’t have to feel like a torture chamber every time you’re in the chair. Some people argue that you don’t have to go for a cleaning more than once a year, but once a year should be your minimum (plus if you have an important event coming up scheduling your second visit a day or two prior can ensure whiter teeth for the big day!). Your dentist will order X-rays once a year as well to monitor any cavities. Visiting your dentist on a regular basis is a prime example of preventative care: clean now, avoid root canals later.
While we don’t condone excessive use of WebMD (self-diagnosis can lead to a multitude of problems like hypochondria), we do think it’s important for us to really get to know our own bodies. The idea of holistic health is becoming more and more important as we finally accept that fad diets don’t work for everyone, and we need to listen to our own bodies to learn what it needs from us. Here are some great resources for making sure your diet includes all of the essential vitamins and minerals it needs, learning more about changing your lifestyle, and keeping health at the forefront of your daily life.
- The Smart Girl’s Guide to Vitamins via LaurenConrad.com: Enough water and a fully balanced diet are essential to your health, but for a single girl constantly on the go it’s quite difficult to get all the essentials. Check out this list for a cheat sheet of supplements to consider and why they’re important.
- Elimination Diet Plan via Dr. Oz: The elimination diet is growing in popularity. Even if you don’t have overt allergic reactions to food, there may be a hidden allergy that’s inhibiting your body from working at its best. Learn more about it and get the full diet plan here.
- Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book: If you want a bigger change from the inside out, I recommend The Body Book which explores health in a holistic, long-term and detailed way… breaking down the body and mind to a cellular level, understanding nutrition and what your body truly needs, and the importance of an active lifestyle.
- Incorporating Meditation: As we’ve repeated, deep breathing can get you through anything. Learn more about meditation from Deepak Chopra, and try these free short guided exercises from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center to get you started.
Do you have any other great resources for everyday health or tips on finding the right doctor for you?