If you’ve ever waited until you’re sick to see a doctor, you’re not alone. Many adults in the U.S. put off routine doctor’s appointments — sometimes even when they don’t feel well.
These delays can be serious: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 40% of all fatalities linked to the five leading causes of death in the U.S. — heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and unintentional injuries — could have been prevented. Untreated blood pressure or cholesterol and unhealthy lifestyle habits factors heavily into many of these cases.
Practicing preventative health is critical to detecting health issues early on, when they are more treatable, and lowering your risk of developing conditions that are otherwise avoidable. Preventative care involves a combination of annual check-ups, vaccinations, screenings, and healthy lifestyle habits.
If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, don’t get discouraged. The important thing is to get back in the habit. Below is an overview of preventative care for both men and women, with recommendations from our pharmacists for how to ensure you’re prioritizing your health.
Know your numbers
There are several important numbers that help your doctor understand your risk for health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes: your body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body mass index (BMI) is a screening tool that doctors use for obesity. A healthy BMI is typically between 18.5 to 24.9, while a BMI between 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or higher is obese.
Keep in mind that while a BMI does help doctors understand your general risk for the chronic conditions mentioned above, it is merely a snapshot of your health and doesn’t account for other important health factors including age and genetics. Your healthcare provider can help you understand your overall priorities with preventative care beyond any single number, which is another important reason to stay up to date with doctor’s appointments.
Your blood pressure numbers are one of several factors that can help your doctor predict your risk for heart disease and cardiac events like a heart attack or stroke. There are five different blood pressure ranges recognized by the American Heart Association:
If your blood pressure is in the normal range, you should get screened at least once per year. If your blood pressure is in a higher range, consult with your doctor about recommended screening frequency.
A cholesterol blood test, also called a lipid profile or lipid panel, gives results for several different readings: HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and total blood (or serum) cholesterol. Your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels are particularly important in helping your doctor identify if you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
A healthy range for total cholesterol is considered to be less than 200 mg/dL
A healthy range for HDL cholesterol is considered to be higher than 40 mg/dL for men and higher than 50 mg/dL for women
A healthy range for LDL cholesterol is considered to be less than 100 mg/dL
These targets are intended to be general guidelines, and each individual’s health needs are different. Having type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough physical activity can affect your cholesterol levels. Your healthcare provider can help you determine your personal targets.
If your total cholesterol is under 200 mg/dL, you can have your cholesterol checked every 4-6 years. If you are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, consult your doctor about recommended screening frequency.
Your blood glucose numbers can help your doctor determine if you have diabetes or are at risk for developing it. A blood sugar level under 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is typical considered healthy, while a reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L and 11.0 mmol/L) may indicate prediabetes and a reading over 200 mg/dL may indicate diabetes. A discussion of these numbers with your healthcare provider is required for an official diagnosis of diabetes.
Generally speaking, if your blood glucose numbers are under 140 mg/dL, you should get screened at least every three years. If you have prediabetes you will need more frequent screening.
If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider can help you develop individualized targets for healthy blood sugar levels, which may be different from the numbers above. Try not to worry about what “normal” looks like for other people, and focus instead on taking simple actions to control your diabetes and live your healthiest life, like staying active and quitting unhealthy habits.
The importance of an annual physical
You should have an annual check-up once per calendar year. This appointment is the foundation of preventative care: since each individual’s risk for specific preventable health conditions may vary, discussing your personal health history and vital signs with your doctor will help you determine which preventative measures to prioritize.
In addition to checking with your physician about which vaccines, screenings, and medical tests you need, ask if your family history indicates an increased risk for any health conditions.
Prevention and screening become more important as you age. Regular colorectal cancer screening is recommended for everyone 50 and over. If you have risk factors like an immediate family member with colorectal cancer, your doctor may suggest earlier screening.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for all women between 45 and 54. Some women begin screening for breast cancer as early as age 40 depending on their risk and family history. Women 55 and older can continue with yearly mammograms or switch to every two years. Your doctor can help you determine the right screening frequency for your individual needs.
Preventative health doesn’t just happen in your doctor’s office. Everyday choices like what you eat and how often you exercise can protect your health for years to come.
Staying active is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cardiovascular disease and maintain a healthy weight. If you’re just starting to figure out your ideal exercise routine, know that you don’t have to exert yourself too hard to reap the benefits of physical activity. Even just 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week can help strengthen your heart.
Everyone should do their best to limit their intake of the following foods, but it’s especially important if you face a greater risk for heart disease or diabetes:
Saturated and trans fats, which can raise your cholesterol
Sodium, which may increase your blood pressure
Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages, which have been linked to both type 2 diabetes and an increased risk for heart disease
Other things you can do to stay healthy? Chronic stress can elevate your blood pressure, putting you at a greater risk for heart attack and stroke, so try to manage stress in heart-healthy ways like getting enough sleep, maintaining a fulfilling social life, and practicing mindfulness and gratitude. And it’s never a bad time to cut back on your alcohol consumption and quit smoking, if you currently smoke.
We’re with you every step of the way
Prioritizing your physical and mental well-being today can help you prevent health issues in the future. We’re here to help make that as simple as possible.
At Alto, a pharmacist is your partner in health. If you take medication, we will work with your doctor, your insurance (if applicable), and any third party savings programs that you may qualify for to make your medications as affordable as possible. And our team of patient care pharmacists is available to chat whenever questions come up. Reach out through our in-app messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.