20 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Once a Year
Asking your doctor these questions annually could save your life.
Making an appointment for your annual doctor's visit is the first step toward taking care of your health. But once you're actually at the doctor's office, if you're not actively asking questions and getting educated about your wellbeing, you're doing yourself a major disservice. After all, what you do and say during your appointment can have a major impact on the quality of care you receive. Whether you're seeing your primary care physician or your OB-GYN, here are all the questions you should ask your doctor at least once a year.
"How are my LDL levels?"
LDL (or low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is referred to as "bad" cholesterol. That's because if it builds up in your arteries, it can lead to some serious heart problems. And every year, you should make sure that you ask your doctor how your LDL levels are looking. Talking to your doctor openly and honestly about your cholesterol will help you "prevent the majority of bad things—stroke, heart attack, and premature death, for example—from happening," explains Richard Wright, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in California.
"What would my ideal blood pressure be, and how do I get there?"
In addition to asking about your LDL levels, Wright says that you should also ask your doctor annually about your blood pressure and, if it's high, what you can do to lower it. "Each of these elements needs attention in hopes of reducing the burden of future cardiovascular events," he notes.
"Are my blood sugar levels healthy?"
It's recommended that adults get their blood sugar levels tested every year or every three years starting at age 45, depending on risk factors, according to their Harvard Medical School. While there are many symptoms of diabetes—like fatigue, extreme thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision, and weight loss—many people with diabetes have no idea that they have it. Considering more than 100 million adults in the U.S. currently live with diabetes or pre-diabetes, catching any problems early could greatly benefit your health. So even if you're not in your mid-40s, it's worth bringing this topic up to your doctor annually.
"Which tests do I need and which are optional?"
Don't blindly consent to every test your doctor suggests. "It is important to ask about [the benefits and risks of a test] so that you as a patient understand what a test is for and what it will determine," says Sanjiv M. Patel, MD, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute in California. This way, he says, you can "make an informed decision as to whether to provide consent to participate." If you feel unsure about a test after hearing the benefits and risks, your safest bet is to get a second opinion.
"What are the side effects of this medication?"
This is a question that you should ask your doctor not just annually, but every time you start taking a new medication. As Patel notes, medications come with myriad side effects, so it's best to be aware of what you might potentially experience once you start taking something.
"Why do I need this medication?"
If you're unsure why a doctor is prescribing you a certain medication, just ask. "People who don't understand why they are taking certain medications are likely to stop them, which can have a potentially deadly outcome," says Patel. For instance, he explains that "patients who prematurely stop taking their anti-platelet medications after having a stent in their coronary artery can have a heart attack."
"What is my ideal weight?"
Everyone's ideal weight is different. That number depends on several things, ranging from height and age to bone density and preexisting medical conditions. That's why Wright says you should make it a point to ask your doctor about your ideal weight every year. Doing so will give you a realistic number to strive toward—one that won't require you to rely on crazy diet fads and unsustainable amounts of time spent at the gym.
"Are there any activities I should be avoiding?"
Most people already know that they shouldn't be smoking, binge drinking, and eating fast food long before they walk into their doctor's office. However, some specific situations call for patients to avoid other activities that might not immediately send up red flags. If you have heart disease, for instance, WebMD notes that exercising in an extremely warm climate can make it difficult to breathe. Talk to your doctor annually about which activities you should avoid in order to live a long, healthy, and happy life.
"Is there anything I should warn my family members about?"
Many health conditions—ranging from breast cancer to hypertension—are influenced by genetics. If your doctor diagnoses you with a new condition or illness, make sure you ask them about whether your family needs to be tested, too.
"Are my bowel movements normal?"
Though there is really no such thing as a "normal" bowel movement, you should talk to your doctor if you're worried that your bathroom habits are a symptom of something more serious. And indeed they can be: The Cleveland Clinic notes that some of the conditions that can cause bowel changes include food allergies, gallbladder issues, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and bowel obstruction.
"How is my thyroid function?"
It's very important to make sure that your thyroid is working properly. This gland, which produces hormones that keep your organs functioning, can wreak some serious havoc inside your body if it's underactive or overactive.
In the case of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, common symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, and constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Meanwhile, with hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, the Mayo Clinic notes that patients often experience an irregular heartbeat, irritability, and tremors. Even if you don't have any symptoms, getting your thyroid levels checked every year is an easy way to stay on top of your health.
"Are all of my vaccines up to date?"
Getting a vaccine once doesn't necessarily make you immune forever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that there are various vaccines and shots that adults should be keeping up with, ranging from the Td booster shot (which you need every 10 years) to the influenza vaccine (which should be administered annually).
And as you age, there are more and more vaccines that you need to get. When you reach 50, the CDC says you should talk to your doctor about getting vaccines like PPSV23, PCV13, and the shingles vaccine.
"Should I be worried about my sleeping habits?"
If you're worried that there's something wrong with your sleep habits, then you should definitely talk to your doctor about it. Sleep problems make you tired during the day, yes, but they can also be the cause of a condition or an indicator of bigger health issues.
For instance, the Mayo Clinic explains that snoring can indicate a serious health condition like sleep apnea—and in some cases, it can also lead to hypertension and increased stroke risk. The next time you visit your physician, talk to them about seeing a sleep doctor and getting to the root of your nighttime issues.
"How are my vitamin levels?"
Unfortunately, vitamin deficiencies are extremely common. In one 2011 study of 4,495 individuals published in Nutrition Research, for instance, researchers found that approximately 42 percent of subjects had insufficient vitamin D levels.
What's more, symptoms of vitamin deficiencies are easy to miss. The Cleveland Clinic notes that some of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness, fatigue, and depression. So, talk to your doctor at least once a year about getting your vitamin levels tested.
"Do all of my moles look OK?"
"If you have a family or personal history of skin cancer, have numerous moles/freckles, or have fair skin with light hair and light eyes, you should have an annual skin check," says Kristine S. Arthur, MD, an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by their 70th birthday, so talking to your dermatologist about any suspicious moles could just save your life.
"Should I see a specialist?"
Sometimes your primary care physician just doesn't cut it. If you think that your health issues require a specialist, then ask your doctor for a referral. There's a reason why doctors like allergists and gastroenterologists exist, so don't be afraid to ask your primary provider about professionals with specific specialties!
"Which prostate cancer test should I do?"
Prostate cancer exams are not one size fits all. "There are two different exams that are advised for early detection that all men beginning at age 55 should discuss with their doctor: digital rectal exam (DRE) and prostate specific antigen (PSA)," says S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. "There are many factors to consider with these screenings, and the decision to be tested is one that can be made with the educated advice of a knowledgeable and trusted urologist."
"Is a mammogram a sufficient breast cancer screening for me?"
Patients should talk to their doctors before they schedule a mammogram every year. Though the X-ray technology has come a long way in detecting bumps and lumps, breast surgical oncologist Janie G. Grumley, MD, notes that "mammograms can miss concerning findings" and that those with symptoms should "[get evaluated by] a medical professional."
What many people don't know is that "patients who are at a higher risk of breast cancer need more than a mammogram." If breast cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about an additional screening with an MRI since a mammogram may not cut it. Richard W. Reitherman, MD, medical director of breast imaging at MemorialCare Breast Center in California, says you should always ask your doctor about the latest in breast cancer screenings just to make sure that you're staying on top of things. "Women should consult with all resources available—including their healthcare provider—in order to reach a personal decision about their own health goals," he says.
"When should I start worrying about my fertility?"
Most women start asking their doctors about potential fertility issues in their late 30s or early 40s, but you shouldn't put off this important topic. "Even if … you're not thinking about future fertility, it may be time to have a conversation about egg freezing," says Sherry Ross, MD, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center. "You may have to be the one to start this conversation with your healthcare provider in order to make plans for a possible future family!"
"What can I do to improve my health?"
"While this may seem like a simple question, the answers you receive will help guide you" toward a healthier lifestyle, says Patel. And even if your doctor's answers are obvious—drink less, exercise more, etc.—hearing these things from a professional might just be the spark that encourages you to make some necessary changes in your life.