If you could keep yourself and your loved ones from ever being harmed by a serious illness such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or obesity, wouldn’t you? Most of us would say “yes!” to this question without hesitation. In fact, you can substantially improve your chances of avoiding or beating a serious health challenge thanks to a handful of readily available health screens and vaccinations. Irma Acosta, PA-C, an experienced and bilingual physician assistant at Apopka Family Practice, explains the following eight essential health strategies that can help keep you on the path to wellness.
Have an annual physical exam. It’s called an annual physical for a reason – so yes, you should keep your appointment even when you aren’t experiencing a known health problem. “The focus of this appointment is on prevention as opposed to a specific health concern,” says Acosta. It typically includes a head-to-toe physical exam as well as lab work to screen for Type 2 diabetes, renal disease, hepatic disease, elevated cholesterol, thyroid dysfunction and many other things. “When these issues are caught early, the patient can benefit from early intervention,” she explains.
Get a colonoscopy after age 50. Everyone above 50 (and some younger people who have a family history of colon cancer) should have this important screening. “Colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colon cancer because if something is found, it can often be removed right then and there,” Acosta says. And if nothing suspicious is found, you can be cleared of the need for screening for the next 10 years!
Mammograms are a must. “About one in eight women will get breast cancer, but the chances of survival are good if the disease is caught and treated early,” Acosta notes. That’s why every woman over age 40 should get an annual mammogram.
Pap tests save lives. Regular pap tests are recommended for all women starting at age 21 to screen for cervical cancer. “They’re done every three to five years, depending on the patient’s age, until age 65 – but if any abnormalities are detected, annual Pap testing may be needed,” Acosta says.
A healthy body needs healthy bones. Osteoporosis causes thinning of the bones and can put you at risk for fractures as you age – but if it’s found, there are treatment options that sometimes will reverse it,” says the physician assistant. That’s why bone density scans are recommended for all women starting at age 65 – and sometimes sooner for those with early-onset menopause or a total hysterectomy.
Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. “A seasonal flu shot can help you avoid getting the flu, or if you do get sick, the severity is much less than without the shot,” Acosta notes. In addition, Zostavax is a shingles vaccine that’s recommended for patients over 60 years old – and two pneumonia vaccines are recommended after the age of 65, given one year apart.
Protect the prostate. Men should have a digital rectal exam to screen for prostate cancer every year starting at age 40, plus a lab test called a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) every year starting at age 50. “Most prostate cancer is slow-growing, so patients whose condition is caught and treated early can have a very good prognosis,” Acosta adds.
Safeguard your skin. Annual skin cancer screening is recommended, and, says Acosta, you should always be on the lookout for “the A-B-C-D’s of skin cancer.” This means moles or lesions that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders or colors or have a growing diameter.
Make an appointment for your next health screening with Irma Acosta, PA-C, at FHMedicalGroup.com, or call (407) 886-1300.
Irma Acosta is a certified physician assistant at Apopka Family Practice who is fluent in English and Spanish. Working with Dr. Rae Ringenberg, her clinical specialties include depression, anxiety, weight loss, skin cancer screening and well-woman exams. The practice provides compassionate care for patients ages two years and older, and has same-day appointments and extended office hours.