Your Guide to Doctor's Appointments and Health Screenings

Your Guide to Doctor’s Appointments and Health Screenings

Hello hello everyone! Summer just flew by, didn’t it?

I know I have been quiet over here. It has been an incredibly busy summer especially with getting married and buying a new house. Phew!

Today I want to share something that I think you will find really valuable. This is a definitive guide as to when you need to go to doctor’s appointments and when to get your health screenings.

For example, how often do women need to get their Pap tests? How often do people need a colonoscopy? Perhaps there are some important things you are missing.

I totally understand how difficult it can be to keep up with all of that. Make sure to keep this page handy!

I have always viewed the fall season as kind of a new start and a time to regroup. There is no better time to take control of your health than now.

Doctor’s appointments

Primary care provider (PCP) or General practitioner (GP)

How often you need to go for doctor’s appointments with your PCP depends on you.

If you are healthy, young adult in your 20s or 30s, you can get away with seeing a PCP for a physical every couple of years.

However, if you are over 40, you have a chronic condition, take medication, or are a smoker. It is a good idea to see your doctor yearly if not more often.

If you are not sure how often you need to be seen in the office, ask your doctor.

Gynecologist

Ladies, you need to see your gynecologist for a doctor’s appointment every year.

You will get a pelvic exam, breast exam, and screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

See below for recommendations on mammograms and Pap tests. These guidelines have changed over the years.

The Pap test is no longer done yearly, so some people believe they do not need to see their gynecologist every year.

However, a pelvic exam can pick up a number of diseases. Plus, it is wise to be screened for STIs if you have had a new sexual partner or have multiple partners.

Ophthalmologist or Optometrist

This is another instance where it depends on your personal factors like age and health status.

Young adults can have an eye exam every couple of years if they have no issues. Some doctors might still say go annually.

After age 65, you should go every year. You will get screenings for glaucoma and cataracts.

People with a history of diabetes of any age need to have a dilated eye exam every year to screen for diabetic retinopathy.

Dermatologist

If you are fair-skinned or have a family history of skin cancer, it is a good idea to have a full body screening for skin cancer every year.

I would guess that a lot of people probably don’t do this but it is definitely worth it. Your health insurance might cover this yearly visit as preventative care.

Dentist

Dental checkups and cleanings are recommended every 6 months.

Don’t forget about your teeth! Your mouth holds a lot of weight in your overall health. Get your checkups now to avoid problems down the road.

Screenings for chronic disease

Blood pressure

Your doctor should measure your blood pressure every time you go to a doctor’s appointment.

If you’re not going to the office yearly, have your blood pressure checked every 1-2 years.

Cholesterol

Some doctors might check a fasting cholesterol panel every year.

If you have had normal cholesterol screenings in the past, then you only need it done every 5 years.

Of course, this also depends on your risk factors like smoking status, family history of heart disease, history of diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure.

Diabetes

As our waistlines get bigger, so does our risk for diabetes.

Again, this also depends on your risk factors. If you are obese, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of diabetes, you should be screened with a fasting blood sugar.

After age 45, you will likely have regular screenings at your doctor’s appointment (every 1-2 years).

Osteoporosis

Ladies, whenever you reach menopause, you should start having bone density scans (DEXA) about every 2 years to screen for osteopenia/osteoporosis.

This disorder is characterized by loss of bone density leading to a higher risk of bone fractures.

You might want to be screened earlier if you have any of these other risk factors:

  • a parent who had osteoporosis or hip fracture
  • low body weight
  • Caucasian ethnicity
  • having had a fracture as an adult
  • smoker
  • secondary condition like rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, or hyperthyroidism
  • long-term use of steroids
  • heavy alcohol use

Men are much less likely to get osteoporosis (lucky them), however, it can happen. Men above the age of 50 should talk to their doctor about their risk.

Vaccinations

Most of us have received all the vaccines we need as children but immunity to certain diseases wanes over time.

Here’s what you, as an adult, need to remember to stay on top of:

  • Flu vaccine – yearly
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDAP) – every 10 years
  • Chickenpox – once if you’re not already immune
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) – vaccination series one time if not already immune
  • Hepatitis A or B – if at risk for disease
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – vaccination series one time for adults and adolescents under age 26
  • Shingles – at age 60
  • Pneumonia – at age 65 or sooner if you have a chronic disease

If you are concerned about any other vaccines (maybe if you are traveling), ask at your next doctor’s appointment.

Screenings for cancer

Breast cancer

The guidelines for breast cancer screening with mammograms can differ depending on who you ask.

I typically rely on The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF). They recommend that women ages 50-74 get a mammogram every 2 years.

The decision to have a mammogram done during a woman’s 40s is a personal decision. If there is a history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (mother or sister) then screening should start earlier. It all depends.

Women who have family members with breast, ovarian, or peritoneal cancer should be screened for breast cancer susceptibility genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Cervical cancer

Women used to have Pap tests every year at their gynecology checkup. This led to a lot of false positives, unnecessary testing, and anxiety.

Women should start getting Pap tests at around age 21.

The USPSTF recommends that women between ages 21-29 have a Pap test every 3 years.

For women aged 30-65, Pap testing in conjunction with high-risk HPV testing can be done every 5 years.

For women over 65, the decision to continue Pap testing is based on prior test results, risk factors, and health status.

Women who have had a hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons may not need to do any more Pap tests.

Colon cancer

The gold standard for colon cancer screening is a colonoscopy.

Screening should start at age 50 and can end at age 75.

A colonoscopy is performed every 10 years in people with average risk. If you have risk factors or have had an abnormal colonoscopy in the past, you might need one in 5 years.

There are other tests for colon cancer including a CT scan done every 5 years or a stool test done yearly.

Above all, colonoscopy is the best test as it provides direct visualization. The doctor can remove any suspicious looking polyps at the time of the test. If any of the other tests are abnormal, you will end up in the colonoscopy suite anyway.

Prostate cancer

This is for the guys out here.

Unfortunately, the guidelines for prostate cancer aren’t really that great.

The USPSTF says that men ages 55-69 years can undergo periodic prostate-specific antigen (PSA) based screening if they want to.

That’s right, it’s up to you whether or not you want to be screened for prostate cancer. Again, consider your risk factors.

Risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • age
  • being African American
  • a family history of prostate cancer

Regardless, PSA screening involves a simple blood test so it certainly can’t hurt to just have it done.

Other considerations/special populations:

Pregnant women

  • Pregnant women should be screened for bacteria in their urine at 12-16 weeks’ gestation
  • Screening for gestational diabetes mellitus takes place after 24 weeks’ gestation
  • Screening for certain infections including HIV, Hepatitis B, syphilis take place at the first prenatal visit
  • Pregnant women should have their blood pressure checked regularly to screen for preeclampsia
  • Blood type is checked at the first prenatal visit to screen for Rh incompatibility

These are the basics for a normal, healthy pregnant woman. This might differ based on age and health of the woman.

Smokers or former smokers

  • Men ages 65-75 who have ever smoked should undergo a one-time ultrasound to screen for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)
  • Adults ages 55-80 who currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years should undergo a yearly low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer

Baby boomers (adults born between 1945 and 1965)

  • One time screening for Hepatitis C infection as this age group is high risk

Takeaway

Overall, that is a lot of screenings to keep track of. I know.

However, staying on top of your doctor’s appointments and disease screenings should keep you in good health.

Don’t wait until you get sick to go to the doctor. You’re not doing yourself any favors that way.

If I didn’t list a screening or doctor visit here, then there is not enough evidence to strongly recommend it. I should say there is not enough evidence to screen a healthy adult without symptoms.

When it comes down to it, the decision to have a screening or test should be a shared decision between you and your provider.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Disclaimer: Information contained in this post should not be substituted for medical advice. Therefore, if you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history.

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