How often should you get a medical checkup? According to recent studies, an annual exam won’t necessarily keep you from getting sick or help you live longer, but there are reasons that regular visits to your doctor are important.

How often should you get a medical checkup? According to recent studies, an annual exam won’t necessarily keep you from getting sick or help you live longer, but there are reasons that regular visits to your doctor are important.

The annual wellness exam helps your doctor establish your baseline health. Risk factors for common chronic diseases can be identified and a plan can be made for prevention, as well as counseling on healthy behaviors. A wellness exam might detect a disease or condition that has no apparent symptoms. It is also a way to build a relationship with your physician before illness strikes. 

What can you expect at a wellness exam? You will be asked about your health history, including dates and results of any tests, labs, immunizations or surgeries you may have had. Your family history of disease is important to help identify your risk factors. You’ll give information about your current lifestyle and habits, including: leisure activities; living conditions; drug, alcohol, and/or tobacco use; diet and exercise habits; sleep patterns; and more. It is important to be honest when filling out this information so that your physician can accurately assess your health. You also will need to know the names and dosage of all prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements that you take. And, you should be sure to mention any complaints or concerns you may have about your health.

At your exam, you can expect:

Vital sign check: Height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate

Manual check of your abdomen, thyroid and lymph nodes for any irregularities

Visual check of the ears, eyes and throat

Follow up on any chronic conditions

Lab tests or screenings may be ordered

Update your vaccinations

Review of medications to be sure they don’t interact with each other or any over-the-counter drugs or supplements that you take

Other tests and examinations, such as hearing, cognitive, depression, skin cancer, vision screenings and/or others may be done, based on your individual health history and needs.

According to the U.S. Preventative Task Force, following is the schedule for various tests, screenings and immunizations.

Blood pressure. Everyone age 18 and older should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year.

Breast cancer. Women should have their first mammogram between ages 40 to 44 and continue to have one every 1 to 2 years until age 75, when it becomes optional based on your physician’s advice and your risk factors.

Cervical cancer. The first PAP test for women should be between ages 21 and 29 and continue every 3 years until age 65. HPV test should be included after age 30.

Colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy is recommended at age 50 to be repeated on a schedule based on findings and physician recommendations.

Diabetes. Everyone should be screened for diabetes starting at age 40, especially if overweight or obese. 

Hepatitis C. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should be tested once.

HIV. Anyone between ages 15 and 65 should be tested one time.

Lung cancer. Annual screen beginning at 55 years old for anyone who smokes 30 or more packs of cigarettes a year or has quit within the past 15 years.

Osteoporosis. Bone density scan should be done on women age 65 or older.

Hyperlipidemia. For those at high risk, lipid levels should be taken at age 25. If not high risk, age 35. Repeat every 5 years if results are normal, or per your physician recommendations.

Prostate Cancer. Men should have a PSA test at age 50 and every 2 to 4 years thereafter. 

Vaccines. Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone yearly. Tetanus, Diphtheria (Td) and Pertussis (Tdap) 1 dose Tdap then Td booster every 10 years. Chicken pox vaccine for everyone older than age 13 that has not had chicken pox. Shingle vaccine is recommended for everyone older than 50. Pneumonia vaccine is recommended for everyone older than age 65 and for those ages 19-64 who are at higher risk.

If you are younger than age 30 and have no health issues, no known risk factors and do not take any prescription medications, you probably don’t need a routine physical. If you are ages 30 to 64 and in generally good health, you can probably go every other year, unless you are at risk of chronic disease or are considerably overweight. If you take any prescriptions, most likely your physician will want to follow up with you at a yearly checkup. After age 65, it is recommended that you get an annual wellness exam. 

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.