A patient going over their health screening results with their primary care provider.
Healthy Living

Health Screenings and Primary Care: What You Need to Know

Sep 18 2020

A primary care provider is at the center of a healthy lifestyle. They help you prevent and treat illnesses early by spotting the warning signs of disease during your regular checkups.

Health screenings are one of the most important tools primary care providers use to learn more about a patient’s current medical state. Therefore, during appointments with your primary care provider, you are likely to undergo one or more of the following health screenings.

Checking for weight loss or gain

Stepping on a scale is how most of us begin our primary care appointments. And there is a reason for this. Checking for weight loss or gain is a great way to screen a patient’s overall health while evaluating possible risk factors of an illness.

A sudden, unintentional loss of weight could be an indication of serious health conditions such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Depression
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Additionally, if you are considered overweight, you are at higher risk for certain health conditions like:

  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes

Blood pressure

Having your blood pressure taken should be another staple of a primary care visit. This is because you could have high blood pressure and not realize it.

So, what is high blood pressure? It is when your body works harder than normal to pump blood. When cholesterol levels build up inside your blood vessels, the vessels become smaller, making it harder for blood to pass through. Stress and anxiety can also cause high blood pressure.

When left untreated, high blood pressure can cause serious damage to your heart and blood vessels. It can also lead to strokes, heart attacks and other issues with heart rate.

Cholesterol levels

Cholesterol is a material your body makes to help you make hormones and digest food. However, having too much cholesterol can cause heart problems if it builds up.

Your primary care provider can order a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels. If you are at high risk for elevated cholesterol levels, they might order this test more often. If this is not the case, you will probably only need to have it checked initially in your 20s and then every four to six years from there.

Your primary care provider will be able to answer any questions about your results as well. Here is some general guidance to help you navigate your cholesterol test results:

  • Triglycerides, a kind of fat, increase your chances of having a stroke or a heart attack
  • LDL cholesterol is the artery-blocking “bad” kind that you want to keep as low as possible
  • HDL cholesterol should be a higher number because this “good” cholesterol clears LDL out of your arteries
  • Total cholesterol is the measure of all three

Blood sugar

The risk with high blood sugar is that you could have it and not know until you are extremely ill. Additionally, when left untreated, high blood sugar can cause prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Similar to cholesterol levels, your primary care provider can monitor your blood sugar by ordering a blood test for you.

Skin examinations

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Therefore, it is important for you and your primary care provider to keep an eye on it.

Many primary care providers will do a general skin check during your routine appointments. If they find anything of concern, they can refer you to a skin specialist for additional care.

Health screenings such as these help primary care providers catch health issues earlier. And catching health issues early increases your chances of preventing and successfully treating disease.

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