6 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before You Turn 50

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Turning 50 is a milestone that we all look forward to reaching, but let’s be honest, it’s also scary AF. For many of us, getting a doctor checkup is not high on the to-do list, but with this big birthday on the horizon, it’s more important than ever to check in with your primary care physician (or, first get a PCP) and make sure you’ve got a clean bill of health.  

“I can tell you from personal experience, the worst part about turning 50 years old is thinking about it,” says Jerrold S. Gertzman, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Capital Health Medical Group and family medical specialist. The good news? “Fifty is not really all that old. Your primary care physician can work with you to not only live longer but to live well longer.” After all, it's much easier to keep people healthy than to get someone healthy once they become sick, Dr. Gertzman says. “Preventing disease and preventing chronic medical conditions is the key to living well longer. Working with your primary care physician is the first step to a longer and more youthful life.”

Here are the questions you should ask your doc as you approach the big 5-0: 

1. What preventative/screening tests should I be getting?  

The recommended age for a colonoscopy if you have no risk factors is now 45, so this is definitely a must. Dr. Gertzman says this screening test for colon cancer is so important because if caught and diagnosed early, it is often very treatable. He also says that mammogram and gynecological screenings such pap smears and pelvic exams are necessary for women, and that both men and women should have a lung cancer screening if they are a former or present smoker. Additionally, you should ask about blood work and urine tests to screen for cholesterol, liver functions, diabetes, kidney function, thyroid disease, anemia. Delana Wardlaw, MD, a family medicine physician with Temple Health says that prostate screening is also essential for men at this age. 

2. Do I need to overhaul my diet and exercise routine? 

Even if you’re set in your ways as far as the foods you like to eat, and the idea of working out seems daunting, Gertzman says there’s still a lot you can do in this realm to protect your health. “Your primary care physician can work with you to make gradual changes to the way you eat and to how you introduce more activity into your life. Small changes can have a very positive impact on your health.”   

Dr. Wardlaw agrees that it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy products which are good sources of calcium and vitamin D. She recommends trying to exercise 150 minutes per week at moderate or high intensity. “But any activity is better than no activity, so be sure to find some way to move,” she advises.   

3. Should I be monitoring my cholesterol and what should I do if it's high? 

“High cholesterol is major risk factor for heart attack and stroke,” says Wardlaw. “Everyone should know their numbers for total cholesterol, good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL).” She says the goal is to lower your total cholesterol and LDL and increase your HDL.  

Dr. Gertzman says you might consider medication and changes to your diet if your cholesterol levels aren’t optimal, but your doctor can advise on what is best. 

4. What changes should I expect with perimenopause/ menopause and is there anything I can do about it?  

The average age of menopause is 51, says Wardlaw, so this is definitely something that should be on your radar. “Women should speak with their physician to determine what options are available to them, including diet, exercise, vaginal lubricants, hormonal therapy and low dose anti-depressants.”   

“Once a woman has gone through menopause, which is one year without a menstrual cycle, if she develops vaginal bleeding she should notify her physician right away,” cautions Gertzman, as this could be a sign of cancer in the uterus. 

5. How will my family history influence risk for certain diseases?  

Family history is not a guarantee that one will get the same conditions as their family member, but it is important to know the conditions for which one may be at risk, says Gertzman. “Then you can take steps to mitigate those risks.” 

“A positive family history of many diseases can increase one’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer,” says Wardlaw. “Follow the basics of a healthy diet, avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol, discuss family histories with your family members and see your physician so you can have your recommended screenings.” 

6. How often should I see the doctor now?  

“See your primary care physician at least once a year for a wellness visit which allows the detection of subtle changes that will allow us to identify conditions prior to symptom manifestation,” says Wardlaw. “You may not be aware of an elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and/or signs of depression (to name a few) which can all be detected at your wellness visit.” The earlier a condition can be detected the higher likelihood the condition can be better controlled and or reversed, she says. 

Freelance PureWow Editor

Ronnie Koenig is a writer with 20+ years’ experience who got her start at Playgirl and went on to write for Cosmo, Redbook, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many others. She’s...