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12 questions to ask at your next doctor appointment

If you only see your doctor once a year, these questions become even more important.

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Help your doctor provide the best care by asking important questions at your next visit.

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Your doctor is not a mind reader. If there's something on your mind that isn't on the agenda for your appointment -- say, you're there to get a flu shot but you're concerned about a symptom like hair loss -- your doctor won't know to ask about it. Your doctor should ask their fair share of questions, but it's important to be involved in your own health care. 

Don't just sit back in silence as your doctor moves through the appointment: Ask these 12 questions and get answers so you can take your health into your own hands.  

Read more: What it's like inside the doctor's office of the future

1. Do my vital signs look OK?

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Blood pressure, and other vital signs, are a routine part of almost all doctors visits.

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When you go to the doctor, whether your visit is for a basic annual physical or to start a treatment program for a health condition, one of the first things your doctor does is take your vital signs. 

Your vital signs include your heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory (breathing) rate and your temperature, according to the US National Library of Medicine, but your doctor may not check all four. If you're just in for a general health check-up, your doctor may only measure your pulse and blood pressure. 

Your doctor should tell you outright if any of your vital signs look like cause for concern -- if they don't make any mention after taking the measurements, that probably means your signs look healthy, but it can't hurt to ask just to make sure. 

Read more: How to talk to a doctor online for free (and for a fee)

2. Should I be concerned about my weight?

Even if you weigh yourself regularly and pay attention to your health, ask your doctor to confirm that you have a healthy body weight. Sometimes, our perceptions of body weight can become skewed and lead us to become unsure of what's healthy for our particular height and lifestyle. 

Other factors, such as genetics and certain medical conditions, can also influence your body weight -- be sure to mention any conditions you know of when asking your doctor if your weight is healthy. 

If your doctor does confirm that you should be concerned about your weight, follow up with questions about physical activity and nutrition. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance or a referral to a nutrition or exercise specialist. 

3. Should I be taking any supplements?

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You may benefit from a multivitamin or other supplement. Ask your doctor what's right for you.

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Supplements should never take priority over whole, nutrient-dense foods, but supplements can help fill in nutritional gaps in your diet. Your doctor may be able to recommend supplements based on your medical history, especially if you've been seeing the same doctor for a long time, but in many cases, blood work is necessary to determine a true need for supplements. 

Tell your doctor about any symptoms you've been having and ask if supplements can help. Chances are, you'll be told to focus on eating a healthy diet first (if you don't already), and come back if your symptoms don't go away. Try keeping a food journal to share with your doctor at your next visit -- this can help them identify gaps in your diet. 

4. Am I due for any vaccines?

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Adults need vaccines, and not just the flu vaccine. 

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Surprise! Vaccines aren't just for kids: adults need them, too. There's a schedule of recommended vaccinations for adults just like there is for children -- take a look at the adult vaccination list from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you suspect you might be due for a vaccine, be sure to ask at your next doctor visit. And if you do need any, and didn't previously have a vaccination record, now is a good time to start one. 

5. I'm not getting enough sleep. Should I be worried about anything?

When you ask this question, your doc is likely to fire back questions of their own. They may ask you about your diet, exercise habits, stress levels, relationships and more. While your primary care physician may not be able to tell you exactly why you aren't getting any sleep, they can help you pinpoint areas of your life that could be attributing to your lack of sleep

High stress levels are a common cause for disturbed sleep, for example. And if you tell your doctor that you feel intense stress at work and at home, day in and day out, his or her advice is likely to be: "Manage stress." If your doc can't pinpoint a culprit, they may refer you to a sleep specialist. 

6. Should I be screened for anything based on my family history?

It becomes more important to get screened for diseases as you get older. Everyone should get screened for certain conditions based solely on age and gender -- the US Preventive Services Task Force provides a helpful guide and timeline of adult preventative screening recommendations.

If you have a family history of diseases, however, your doctor may want to screen you for those specific conditions more often. Here's more information from the CDC about collecting and utilizing your family medical history.

Read more: I tried an online doctor -- and survived

7. Could I benefit from chiropractic, acupuncture or osteopathic medicine?

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Research suggests acupuncture can help relieve pain, but we don't know exactly how.

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Alternative and complementary medicine grow more popular by the day. If you have symptoms that you think could benefit from some form of alternative or complementary medicine, ask your doctor their thoughts. 

If you experience chronic neck pain or joint stiffness, for example, you may benefit from seeing a chiropractor or osteopathic doctor. You can always opt to see an alternative medicine practitioner on your own, but it's worth getting your primary care physician's input first, especially if those other services aren't covered by your insurance. 

Read more: Soothe vs. Zeel: Which on-demand massage service is best?

8. What should I know about this medication?

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Make sure you know everything there is to know about a medication you're prescribed.

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Your doctor may prescribe a medication if you have a health condition. You deserve to know exactly what you're taking and what it does: The National Institute on Aging recommends asking why this drug was prescribed for you, what it does inside your body, how often and when to take it, and if the drug interacts with any other medications you're currently taking. 

You should also ask about any side effects of the drug and, if you're back for a check-up after taking the medicine for a while, ask if it's working. 

9. Should I get a second opinion?

It's OK to ask about a second opinion if you aren't confident in your doctor's diagnosis. In fact, your primary care physician may tell you upfront that you should see a specialist to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. Ask for a referral to someone who can give you a comprehensive and accurate second opinion. 

10. Can I get help paying for this? 

Health care isn't cheap, there's no doubt about that. But you may be surprised to learn that doctors often don't know the financial burden on their patients -- the cost of medications and procedures all depends on your health insurance, and it's not your doctor's job to know what your insurance covers. Physicians write prescriptions based on health needs, not cost. 

So speak up if you're concerned about the price of your medication, tests or visit in general. Many doctor's offices offer payment plans to help offset the up-front cost. Before bringing your prescription to a pharmacy, ask if there's a generic version of the medication that might be less expensive. 

And if you come to your visit prepared -- such as with a copy of your insurance summary of benefits and coverage -- you and your doctor can decide together what is the most cost-effective option that fully supports your health needs. 

11. How can I improve my health on my own?

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One simple way to improve your health on your own: exercise.

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It's not up to your doctor to keep your body in tip-top shape -- it's up to you, with help from your doctor. At your next appointment, discuss with your doctor if there is anything you can do at home to help with your health

If you're generally healthy, your doctor will probably recite the basics: Get more sleep, manage stress, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. If you have a medical condition, though, your physician may be able to provide specific tips to keep that condition under control. 

Read more: 6 at-home self exams everyone should do

12. When should I schedule my next appointment? 

Simple, but necessary: Don't leave the clinic without scheduling your next appointment, whether that appointment is a medication follow-up or next year's physical. 

You may leave with good intentions and plan to make your next appointment after looking at your calendar, but the hustle and bustle of life can get in the way and, next thing you know, you're way past due for your check-up

Your doctor's office should call you ahead of the appointment to confirm, so even if you forgot in the meantime and need to reschedule, you'll have the chance to do so. 

Read more: How to keep track of your medical records

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.