Add health to your spring cleaning checklist, says Dr. Raj Bhardwaj

A family physician in Calgary is urging Albertans to use that springtime energy to tackle some unpleasant medical needs.

Shake off the winter cobwebs and tackle a few medical projects, family physician says

Add your medical needs to the top of your spring cleaning list, Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A family physician in Calgary is urging Albertans to use that springtime energy to tackle some unpleasant medical needs.

Think of it like your medical spring cleaning, Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says.

"These are things that need doing but are not time critical so they just get left undone for a long time," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"When you do get them done, you sort of feel in control, you feel good about it. You get it done, you get it off your list."

Some are easier than others — like replacing expired medications in your medicine cabinet. Take the old ones to the pharmacy for disposal. Otherwise, they'll leach into the environment.

But others on the list are trickier and require some research and questions.

Book appointments

Make sure you have your dentist and eye doctor appointments booked, as well as with your family doctor.

If you don't have a family doctor, find one. Calgary offers a website that matches patients with family physicians.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj is a columnist on CBC Radio and a family physician in Calgary. (Dr. Raj Bhardwaj/Twitter)

If you are struggling to get along with your current doctor, consider getting a new one, Bhardwaj said.

"They're kind of like a quarterback. You kind of need them to run the team sometimes," he said. "And you want one, you want a good one, before you need them."

Be prepared

Be prepared when you meet your doctor for the first time. You'll be asked your past medical history such as conditions, surgeries, even illnesses you had as a child, like asthma.

Offer your family's medical history, too, as many illnesses are hereditary. If you don't know it, try to find out — and the specifics, such as whether your grandfather died from a stroke or dementia.

"But we also want to get a picture of the person behind the medical data, so we want to know what do you do for a living? What do you do for fun?" Bhardwaj said.

"It's important because that changes your illness experience if something happens."

For example, a radio host would be more stressed out about losing her voice than someone who works at a computer.

Stay on top of tests

Tests are tricky to track as they're not often regularly required, the doctor said.

Even annual check-ups are now shown to be unnecessary, though you should see your family doctor when you have a concern.

"In that theme in spring cleaning, there are those things that need doing once in a while that often drop off the list," Bhardwaj said.

Pap tests are required for many women only every three years. Other tests, like for diabetes or cholesterol, are triggered by reaching milestone ages, such as 40 or 50.

"Things like that can really preserve your health rather than wait for something to show up and treat the illness that results," he said.

End of life

Many folks don't think of end-of-life decisions because they're unpleasant and, hopefully, far off, Bhardwaj said.

"Wills are sort of the main one that everybody thinks of but that links to a lot of things," he said.

Medical advanced directives, as they're known, spell out how you want to be cared for in the event you can't communicate your desires.

Do you want to be put on a breathing machine if there's no chance of meaningful survival? Would you like to go into a hospice? Ensure you're registered as an organ donor, if that's your wish, and inform your family.

"Unfortunately, people die every day and they die without sort of having their wishes known by their family and by their caregivers," he said.

"So it'd be nice to do that sort of thing and nice to do it when you're not in the middle of a crisis."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.