How Often Should I Get a Routine Physical?
Annual physical check-ups are an easy way to monitor your health over time. Even if you feel perfectly healthy and are in great shape, these routine check-ups can help you find underlying conditions before they progress to a dangerous stage. Annual check-ups can establish a baseline for your overall health, which your provider can use to compare with future annual medical check-ups to determine if anything has significantly changed.
Below, we’ll go over what is included in an annual check-up, why you should get a regular check-up, and how they can differ for men and women.
Annual check-up for women
In early adulthood, a woman’s annual health check-up list doesn’t look that different from a man’s. Your provider will ask questions about your lifestyle, like how often you exercise, whether you eat a relatively healthy diet, and whether or not you are sexually active or use alcohol or drugs recreationally. It is very important to answer your provider as honestly and accurately as you can, even if the subject matter is uncomfortable, so your doctor can provide you with the best possible care. Your annual physical may change slightly as you get older – here is what you might expect over the years:
- Age 18-30
In this age group, your provider will check your vital signs, take your medical history, and may order a Standard Health Panel as part of your physical. This common annual check-up blood test is frequently ordered for men or women, and includes a Complete Blood Count (CBC), Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP), Urinalysis (UA), a Hemoglobin A1C test, and a Lipid Panel.
This panel screens for a wide variety of issues, including high cholesterol, infections, malnutrition, anemia, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, certain cancers, and more. Aside from a physical and a blood test, it is generally recommended for women aged 18-30 to visit their gynecologists each year for their annual pap smear and pelvic exam, which screens for abnormalities in the reproductive organs and certain types of cancers.
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- Age 30-40
Once a woman is in her thirties and has received normal results from consecutive pap smear exams, her doctor might recommend waiting five years between pelvic exams, instead of getting them each year. As women age and their hormones begin to change, providers might also recommend annual health check-up blood tests that are specifically geared towards women. A Comprehensive Female Lab Panel includes all the tests in a Standard Health Panel, in addition to an iron test, a GGT test, and a vitamin D test.
Iron tests can reveal anemia (iron deficiency) or iron overload, both of which can become dangerous conditions if left untreated. A GGT test measures an enzyme found mostly in the liver, to screen for liver or bile duct disease. Vitamin D tests are useful for detecting malabsorption issues as well as kidney disease.
- Check-ups for women over 40
After 40, your routine check-up with your doctor will likely involve a greater focus on your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and markers for ovarian cancer. Your doctor will also probably start ordering mammograms for you once you turn forty. These are special types of x-ray procedures that look for abnormalities in the breast tissue and are used to screen for breast cancer. Some doctors don’t order mammograms for their patients until they are 45 or 50, but if you have a family history of cancer or have had cancer in the past, your provider will likely want you to start receiving annual mammograms by the age of 40, if not earlier.
Annual check-up for men
A health check-up for men entails most of the same tests and questions as it does for women, especially in the early stages. Like women, men who have overall good health should still start the habit of routine health exams at a young age, to have a good baseline established for future testing. Physical check-ups for men also change slightly throughout their lives.
- Age 18-30
Men will experience an exam similar to what female patients experience at ages 18-30. The doctor will ask routine questions about diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, specifically about sexual activity and alcohol and drug use. As always, it is vital to answer all questions as truthfully and accurately as possible, so your doctor can get a clear picture of your general health as well as your risk factors.
- Age 30-40
Doctor check-ups for men will change slightly as men age. After thirty, your provider may take a closer look at your cholesterol and blood pressure, and may want to start keeping track of your thyroid and prostate levels. Your provider may order a Comprehensive Male Panel, which includes all the tests of a Standard Health Panel in addition to a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test, and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
The TSH test screens for thyroid problems, which can lead to metabolic issues. The PSA test is used to screen for prostate cancer, which is a cancer that is often treatable and leads to a good outcome when caught very early. How often you should get a physical in your 30s depends on a few factors, such as family history of cancer or high cholesterol, or whether or not your employer requires you to get an annual exam.
- Check-ups for men over 40
As men get older, their providers may want to be more proactive in their cancer screenings. This often includes a colonoscopy every few years, starting at the age of 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other cancers, your doctor may order your first colonoscopy at a much younger age.
How to prepare for your routine medical exam
Wear loose and comfortable clothing, so your doctor can easily administer a physical exam. Physical examinations often include palpating your abdomen and other body parts to check for lumps and abnormalities, so it’s important to dress comfortably. Your doctor may order lab work for you, in which case you’ll likely need to fast for 12 hours to ensure accurate cholesterol and blood sugar readings.
How often you should get routine checkups at the doctor largely depends on your age, family history, and whether or not you need a yearly checkup for work. If you’ve never had any abnormalities in your check-ups and you are under 50, your doctor may only recommend that you come in every other year. It is very important to start your annual physical examinations when you are young and in relatively good health, so your provider has a good basis for comparison for future exams.
How do I find an affordable doctor?
The cost of an annual check-up can vary greatly depending on where you live, what type of facility you go to for your healthcare, and what type of insurance coverage you have. At Tripment Health, you can bypass the hassle of insurance and shop around for primary care providers and lab tests online. You can also order lab tests directly from the website without having to visit a provider’s office. If you need a doctor’s referral for a test, Tripment can provide one for you.
Affordable lab tests are closer than you think on Tripment.com, with nearly 7,000 lab testing facilities located in 48 states.
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