When you were little, your parents probably made sure you had an annual checkup with your doctor. But as you've grown older, you may have gotten out of this habit.
Health professionals stress that these regular exams are important to help identify risk factors and problems before they become serious. If diseases are caught early, treatments are usually much more effective. Ultimately, having a regular doctor's visit will help you live a long and healthy life.
Doctor’s Visit: The Prevention Checkup
Depending on your age, sex, and family medical history, a checkup with your doctor may include:
Blood, urine, vision, and hearing tests to evaluate your overall health
Assessments of your blood pressure, cholesterol level, and weight
A discussion about your diet and exercise habits and any tobacco, drug, and alcohol use
Immunizations and booster shots
Screenings to assess your risk of developing certain diseases, including diabetes (if you already have high blood pressure or high cholesterol) and cancer
Depending on your age and sexual lifestyle, testing for STDs and possibly HIV
Starting at age 50, or younger if you have a family history, a screening test for colorectal cancer
A discussion about depression and stress to evaluate your mental health
Doctor’s Visit: Concerns for Men
For men, in addition to checking weight, high blood pressure, and other basics, your doctor's visit may specifically include:
Starting at age 50, or younger if you have a family history, a rectal exam to check for abnormal bumps in the prostate and a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test to screen for prostate cancer
Between the ages of 65 and 75 if you have ever smoked cigarettes, an abdominal exam to check for an enlargement in your aorta; an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a weakness in the lining of the aorta (a large blood vessel in your chest and abdomen), can develop with age and become a life-threatening problem.
Doctor’s Visit: Concerns for Women
For women, in addition to checking weight, high blood pressure, and other basics, your doctor's visit may specifically include:
A test for cervical cancer, called a Pap smear, every one to three years
A clinical breast exam to check for any unusual lumps or bumps in your breasts
Starting at age 40 (or younger if you have a strong family history for breast cancer), a breast cancer screening with a mammogram every one to two years
Starting at age 65, a referral for a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis, the disease that causes brittle, fragile bones and typically affects older women; women with more than one risk factor for osteoporosis may start earlier
Doctor’s Visit: Preparation
It's important for you to play an active role to get the most out of your doctor's visit. Before your exam, review and update your family health history, be prepared to ask if you're due for any general screenings or vaccinations, and come up with a list of questions if you have particular health concerns.
During your actual doctor's visit, don't be shy about getting your questions answered. Also, if your doctor gives you advice about specific health issues, don't hesitate to take notes. Time is often limited during these exams, but by coming prepared you’re sure to get the most out of your checkup.