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5 Reasons You Need a Primary Care Doctor in Your 20s & 30s

July 11, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Many young adults only go looking for a doctor once they're sick or dealing with pain.

But that's really not the way it should work.

"You take your car in for routine checkups," notes Dr. Charanjeev Mann, a primary-care physician at Houston Methodist. "Why wouldn't you do the same for your mind and body?"

The reality is that being healthy later in life starts with the choices you make in your 20s and 30s, including establishing a relationship with a primary-care provider and making time for your annual physical exam.

"Without annual exams and preventive care, health issues can go unchecked for years or until they become serious problems," Dr. Mann warns.

Plus, with regular checkups, your doctor becomes well-versed in your specific health history and can be a champion for your particular health goals.

5 reasons every young adult needs a primary-care doctor

Even in the absence of uncomfortable symptoms or glaring health problems, regularly seeing your primary-care provider is a critical step in staying healthier for longer.

Here are five reasons you should have a primary-care doctor, even if you're young, even if you're healthy:

1. Help with the health basics, like diet, sleep and stress

Let's face it: Even if you feel fine, there's likely some aspect of your overall wellness that needs work.

From fatigue or frequent headaches to a general lack of motivation or insomnia, your primary-care doctor not only can recognize the subtle signs your health is suffering but also uncover behaviors that may be contributing to your issues. He or she can also recommend realistic, actionable steps to help correct them.

It's tempting to brush off these seemingly small wellness issues, but it's important to work with your doctor to address them.

Left unchecked, things like poor sleep, being too sedentary, carrying excess weight and chronic stress over time can contribute to a number of serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes, sleep apnea, anxiety and depression, joint and muscle pain and more.

2. Expert answers about whether common wellness trends actually work

There's always some new product or diet claiming to help us lose weight or improve our health. But it's good to be skeptical of the health trends you run across in the news or your social feeds.

From the pros and cons of intermittent fasting (or some other popular diet) to whether IV vitamin therapy can actually help alleviate pain or cure a hangover, your primary-care doctor can explain which may be beneficial and which are just hype. Some may even be unsafe.

Additionally, it's always important to consult a doctor before taking a new supplement. Supplements typically aren't harmful, but there's no guarantee of that. Your doctor can help ensure you're taking supplements safely.

3. You're never "too young" to have a health issue

Many people skip their annual physical exam for years, thinking they're too young to have to worry about their health yet. But data from the CDC shows that 18% of young women and 13% of young men have at least one chronic health condition.

In fact, several health issues are more common in young adults than you may think:

  • Almost half of adults over the age of 20 have elevated or high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association
  • 1 in 4 young adults are living with prediabetes (the precursor to type 2 diabetes), according to the CDC
  • More than 25% of young adults have borderline high LDL cholesterol levels, according to research from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Left uncontrolled, these issues increase the risk of developing serious chronic health conditions, like heart disease, sometimes as early as middle age. They can also lead to a reliance on medications and potentially even irreversible damage to your health.

Fortunately, they're also all things that can be caught early through your annual physical exam and corrected via guidance from your primary-care physician.

Dr. Mann points out that this is why preventative screenings, wellness exams and checkups are important at all ages.

4. Some chronic health conditions can lurk quietly in the background

There are things you can't really miss — acid reflux, asthma, recurrent urinary tract infections.

But regular wellness exams and age-appropriate screenings are the only way to catch the harmful health issues that don't have obvious symptoms, like elevated blood pressure, prediabetes, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. It's why many of these are often referred to as "silent killers."

"Annual physical exams are a proactive measure that can help identify health concerns and risks before the onset of chronic illness," explains Dr. Mann.

5. A first point of contact who can streamline care when you do need it

Regardless of how you feel today, eventually there'll be some reason you need to see a doctor. So why not ensure it's someone with years — or decades — of experience helping you manage your health?

Whether you need to see a doctor for an acute illness, like a bad cold, or you're experiencing lingering symptoms that won't go away, having an established primary-care physician can make sure you get quality care quickly.

Your doctor can also easily refer you to a specialist, like a cardiologist, neurologist or gastroenterologist, if you have a complex health issue.

What happens at an annual physical exam?

Since your health and wellness change over time, your annual physical exam is a time for your primary-care doctor to:

  • Check your vitals, including your blood pressure
  • Listen to your heart and lungs
  • Perform blood work and any screenings you may be due for
  • Remind you about other wellness exams you may need, like a breast exam or pap smear
  • Evaluate your mental health
  • Discuss your diet and exercise routines
  • Ask about your alcohol and tobacco use
  • Review your immunization records
  • Discuss any recommended medications or treatments

Your doctor will personalize the appointment based on your medical history and medical guidelines for your age group.

"The ultimate goal of the annual physical exam is to provide you with the preventive care that can help you take control of your health before things go wrong," explains Dr. Mann.

Plus, annual physical exams are free with most health insurance plans, included as a no-cost preventive benefit to you. So why not take advantage?

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