Don't miss out on your ounce of prevention

Female doctor using stethescope on young girl

By Annie Mack, M.D., internal medicine and pediatrics, Providence Medical Group-The Plaza

If you go to the doctor only when you're sick, you'll miss some powerful opportunities to stay well. Sick visits focus specifically on dealing with the immediate health issue, but an equally valuable part of your primary care provider's role is to help you prevent illness in the first place. That's what we work on during preventive visits. Like the well-child checks that kids get, adult preventive visits are longer appointments focused on helping you avoid – or discover, control and minimize – serious illnesses and disease complications.

Hate going to the doctor? Then keeping up with your preventive visits makes good sense. When you partner with your doctor to stay up to date on key health screenings and immunizations, it's a safe bet that you'll spend less time scheduling sick visits. It may sound cliché, but an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Here are just a few preventive services that prove the point:

Blood pressure screening is the only way to detect high blood pressure before it does serious damage. This "silent killer" can ravage the blood vessels for years before any outward signs show up. Early detection and treatment significantly lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Blood sugar testing is a simple way to watch out for diabetes, another "silent" disease that can cause extensive damage well before any symptoms are noticeable. Controlling diabetes is essential to prevent serious complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, nerve disorders and other problems.

Colon cancer screening can find and remove colon polyps before they become cancerous, effectively preventing colon cancer.

Mammography can discover tiny tumors hidden deep inside breast tissue well before they can be felt by a woman or by her physician. Finding breast cancer at an early stage gives women the best chance for successful treatment and cure.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, recommended primarily for male smokers between the ages of 65 and 75, saves lives by making it possible to find and surgically treat life-threatening aneurysms before they rupture.

Flu shots not only spare millions of people countless days or weeks of miserable downtime – they save lives. The public may not be aware of it, but when you work in a hospital, you see infants, children and older adults hospitalized with influenza every year, and some of them die from it. An annual flu shot can help prevent those tragedies.

Childhood immunizations have helped eradicate many serious diseases, but some, such as measles and mumps, are starting to make a comeback as people become more afraid of the vaccines than of the diseases themselves. Immunizations are a very low-risk way to protect children from very high-risk diseases.

Cholesterol screening for children, beginning between the ages of 9 and 11, is a new recommendation in reaction to rising childhood obesity, which is leading more young children to develop high cholesterol, diabetes and other traditionally adult diseases. Intervening as early as possible can spare a child a lifetime of health problems.

Well-child checks are important checkpoints in a child's life to make sure that development is progressing normally, and that all the vaccinations that need to happen in the first few years of life are happening on time.

Staying on top of all of the preventive recommendations – and there are many more – is probably too much to ask of most people. But it's not too much to ask of your primary care provider. That's what we're here for. Just keep up with your regular checkups, and we'll help you stay on track. Whether it's time to update a vaccination, to put on a blood pressure cuff or to prep for a colonoscopy, the benefits of prevention are clear when you weigh them against the risks they prevent.

Don't miss out on an opportunity to protect your health and the health of your family. Connect with your primary care provider for your ounce of prevention today. Need a provider? Search our directory for the care that's right for you.