For many people, getting an annual physical checkup is part of a healthy lifestyle. So what if someone told you that such visits may not actually have any impact on your health?
According to The Washington Post, a large new study suggests physical exams are more or less useless.
The study, by researchers with the international Cochrane Review, examined a collection of data involving more than 182,000 patients and compared the death rates between those who had general checkups and those who didn’t.
General exams had “no effect on the risk of death, or on the risk of cardiovascular diseases or cancer,” the study found.
Moreover, the Post reports that while the researchers noticed an increase in diagnoses among those who had general exams, those diagnoses did not necessarily improve their health.
“Increased diagnostic and therapeutic activity would be expected if general health checks led to improved health,” the study said, according to the newspaper. “However, more diagnoses in the absence of health improvement would indicate overdiagnosis and overtreatment.”
An article in The Wall Street Journal points out that there are some limitations to this study. Most notably, collection of the data used in the review began decades ago and may not account for how checkups are conducted today. For instance, guidelines for treating certain conditions like high blood pressure have changed.
Nonetheless, the findings add to the debate over the need for blanket health exams. Already in recent years, recommendations have changed about how early and how frequently women should receive breast cancer screening mammograms, as well as how often they need pap tests.
For men, the Globe and Mail’s health expert Sheila Wijayasinghe advised that a healthy male at the age of 35 does not need an annual physical; she recommended that those between 30 and 45 have regular checkups every two to three years.
But while you may not need as many checkups as you perhaps had thought, previous research has shown there is good reason not to abandon them just yet.
L. Ebony Boulware of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore told The Wall Street Journal that general checkups do help patients get some preventative care and alleviate their anxieties.
"What may be very important about these exams is that they provide an opportunity for patients to get together with their health-care providers, talk about their health risks and plan for getting recommended tests," he said.