The Truth About Annual Check-Ups
The press just had a field day with this one. According to a new review of studies, an annual physical exam doesn’t do you any good.1
Or, at least, that’s how it’s been reported. But what’s the truth about this new study?
To begin with, the news isn’t really from a study at all. It comes from something called a meta-analysis. That’s a review of several studies on the same topic. And in a moment, I’ll tell you why that should raise a red flag. But first, here’s why this “news” isn’t news at all.
A 2005 survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine notes there’s no compelling evidence to justify universal annual physicals.2
And way back in 1989, Veterans Administration doctors wrote that – unless you’re pregnant or show some symptoms, “…no evidence supports the need for a complete physical examination as traditionally defined.”3
So is the annual physical pointless? It’s certainly been controversial for a long time. And, as usual, the devil’s in the details. And the press coverage of this issue has been a bit short on those.
For example, if you’re apparently healthy, chances are you are healthy. So an annual exam probably won’t offer you any benefit. Even people with some risk factors for becoming sick may not actually become sick for many years – if at all.
What this means is that a lot of people won’t get an apparent benefit from an annual physical exam.
It’s a lot like taking your car in for a check-up every so often. If your car has been running fine, you don’t expect the mechanics to find problems… and they usually don’t.
But what happens when you have an old car? When your car is 10, 12 or 15 years old, there’s a much better chance your mechanic will find a problem during a routine check-up.
The same is true for people. And that’s one of the details the press seems to have left out about this latest review. The authors deliberately left out studies that looked at mature adults.
In other words, their findings may be affected by the fact they excluded the people most likely to benefit from an annual physical.
And that’s one of the problems with a meta-analysis. It’s only as good as the studies included. Without studies of mature adults – and an average follow-up of only 9 years – the authors only got a partial picture at best.
The authors also admit there were several problems with the studies they used. Several outcomes were “poorly studied.”
And they defined an annual physical as any visit that involved an exam for two or more health concerns. And a thorough annual exam looks at a lot more than just two aspects of your health.
There is strong evidence that healthy adults don’t need an annual physical exam. But if you have risk factors for any serious condition – or if you’re over middle age – seeing your doctor once a year for a check-up isn’t a bad idea.
Yours in good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
1 Krogsbøll, L.T., et al, “General health checks in adults for reducing morbidity and mortality from disease,” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009009.pub2.
2 Prochazka, A.V., et al, “Support of Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Annual Physical Examination: A Survey of Primary Care Providers,” Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165(12): 1347-1352.
3 Oboler, S.K. and LaForce, F.M.,”The periodic physical examination in asymptomatic adults,” Annals of Internal Medicine. 1989; 110(3): 214-226.