When was the last time you saw your primary care physician? If you’re not taking steps to stay healthy, you could find yourself in the emergency room facing a serious condition. And when health problems continue undiagnosed, treatment might take longer and not be as effective.

With a visit to your PCP, you can easily check for hidden, but potentially serious, conditions.

Invisible symptoms

“With issues like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, people don’t really have symptoms. It’s nice to catch these things before people end up in the ER,” says Dr. Penny West, an internal medicine specialist on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Irving. “A PCP can pick up these conditions with vital signs and lab work. We often find them in younger patients who think they are healthy.”

Screening for signs

Your PCP also can make sure your routine screenings are up to date, based on your age and risk factors.

“Screenings pick things up earlier, compared to waiting until you have symptoms,” explains West. Screenings for skin, breast, colon, prostate and other cancers can help catch these diseases when they are most treatable.

Wellness work-ups

With a thorough, regular physical and a few tests, such as blood work, EKGs, X-rays and gastrointestinal and pulmonary tests (depending on what you need), your PCP will have a good idea of your overall health.

Then, he or she can let you know what you need to do to stay healthy.

Knowing you

“A PCP knows your history and your family history. They have some baseline so they can ask the right questions,” says West. “They really know the whole person. Having a doctor who has seen you more than a couple of times and seen you when you’re not sick can make a difference.”

And even if someone else is covering for your regular doctor, he or she will have easy access to your chart and your doctor’s notes.

West says that anytime you suspect a health problem you should let your PCP know.

“It’s usually easier to take care of a problem the earlier you catch it,” she says.

If you do need to visit an emergency department on a night or weekend, follow up with your doctor afterward so he or she knows what happened and can help monitor your condition.

For more information about Baylor Medical Center at Irving, visit www.BaylorHealth.com.