At the beginning of the pandemic, most routine health care visits were cancelled to preserve health care supplies and limit the spread of coronavirus. But what’s the downside to putting off routine health care? Stuart Hooks, MD, with Lexington Internists Northeast answers your questions about the screenings and care you need and why it's important not to put it off for long.
Q. Screening recommendations change periodically, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest guidelines. What screenings and routine care should adults have and when?
A. Current guidelines for adults include:
- Blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration rate and temperature should be taken; weight measured; and heart and lungs listened to annually.
- Blood tests, including a complete blood count, complete metabolic panel, lipid panel and thyroid panel should be performed at least every three years, but yearly is ideal.
- Begin colonoscopy screening at age 50 without family history of colon cancer or polyps. If there is family history colon cancer or polyps, begin colonoscopy screening at 10 years younger than your family member was diagnosed.
- Yearly breast exam should performed by healthcare provider beginning at age 21.
- Pap smear should be performed every three years beginning at age 21.
- Yearly mammograms should be conducted for women between age 40 and 65 with no family history of breast cancer. If there is family history of breast cancer, your health provider may recommend mammography screening begin before age 40. After age 65, mammograms can be performed every other year.
Annual prostate exam and prostate specific antigen (PSA) test should be performed annually beginning at age 35 for African-Americans and age 40 for Caucasians with no family history of prostate cancer. If there is family history, begin annual screenings ten years younger than your family member was diagnosed.
Q. Are there any vaccinations adults need to have?
A. I recommend everyone have a flu shot annually.
Between the ages of 50 and 60, most people should have the shingles vaccine, unless they have a weakened immune system or have certain medical conditions.
Those over age 65 should have a pneumonia vaccine.
Anyone who will be around an infant should also have a tetanus/diptheria/pertussis (Tdap) vaccine to avoid spreading whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory infection.
Q. What’s the risk of delaying annual screenings and blood tests?
A. Having regular screenings allows us to catch problems early and prevent them from progressing. For example, many young people don’t know they have high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and other conditions. Also, if we catch cancer early, before it spreads, patients have a much better prognosis.
Q. Young adults are less likely to have a primary care physician. Why is it important, even for young adults, to see a physician regularly?
A. It’s ideal to develop a relationship with a primary care physician so they get to know you and can monitor your health to pick up on changes you may not even notice.
Q. Should people feel safe visiting their physician’s office now?A. Absolutely, they should feel safe. Physician offices have strict safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of infections like COVID and flu. These include isolating patients, wearing masks, frequent sanitizing and social distancing in lobbies.
G. Stuart Hooks, MD, Lexington Internists Northeast