Seeing your doctor regularly is an important component of overall health. Your annual physical exam can look different depending on your age and any family history you’ve shared with your physician. Learn about preventive screenings for every age, including what that annual health checkup should look like with certain health histories.
Prevention is the Key to Good Health
Annual physical exams are a great time to not only check in with your doctor about things that are bothering you but a way to catch conditions while they are more treatable. Prevention is important in not only your day-to-day health but long-term outlooks for many conditions.
What is an annual screening?
Typically, an annual screening is a yearly wellness exam that looks at general predictors for good health, like your weight, blood pressure, and blood tests that measure cholesterol and other markers.
What is included in a health screening?
A health screening can take the form of a basic health screening and comprehensive health screening. Both may vary based on age, sex, stated concerns and family histories.
A basic health screening typically includes:
Height and weight
Blood tests are also usually ordered as part of a basic health screening to measure cholesterol, sugar levels, even organ function.
A comprehensive health screening may add:
Additional screenings may be ordered at any time based on your doctor’s recommendations or any of your own stated concerns. Your doctor may also recommend regular screenings with specialists.
Health Screenings for 18-39 years old
Health screenings for adults ages 18-39 will vary in frequency, as young, healthy adults may not need screenings as often as those approaching 40. The guide below will help you determine when and how often to get the most important health screenings in this age range:
How often should you get a physical exam? Most physicians recommend an annual physical exam, even if you’re healthy. This can be a basic exam as a preventative measure to monitor general health markers.
What age should you start getting physical exams? There is no age limit for physical exams, as they are often part of childhood wellness checks. Some doctors suggest a medical screening exam for young adults 18-22 every other year, with annual basic screenings after that point through adulthood.
How often should you get a cholesterol check? Healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked at least every 4-6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults with a history of heart disease or a family history of high cholesterol should receive more frequent cholesterol checks.
What age should you start getting cholesterol checks? The CDC recommends children have at least one cholesterol check between the ages of 7-11 and then again for young adults between 17-21. After that point, adults should follow the guidelines for healthy adults.
How often should you get blood work? Routine blood work is generally part of an annual key health screening.
What age should you start getting blood work? Blood work is a routine part of most health examinations and includes health markers like cholesterol levels described above. That means blood work should be part of a child’s wellness plan before they even reach puberty.
Skin Exams & Skin Cancer Screenings
How often should you get a skin exam? Annual skin exams are recommended for lower-risk groups. If you are high risk — you have a personal or family history with skin cancer, frequent sun exposure, history of intense sunburns — your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings. Self-exams are also an important tool in determining when to come in for a more intensive skin screening. This means you’re looking for any changes in your skin, including odd moles, sores, rough spots or new bumps that can signal pre-cancer or skin cancer.
What age should you start getting skin exams? Most doctors recommend regular dermatology appointments by your mid-20s. Those with a family history of skin cancer or frequent sun exposure may want to begin skin exams sooner.
How often should you get a diabetes screening? Diabetes screenings every three years are the recommendation by most doctors. This can change based on existing symptoms, family history and a predisposition to diabetes.
What age should you start getting a diabetes screening? If you are overweight or obese, your doctor may recommend your first screening by age 35. Most healthy adults should receive their first diabetes screening by age 45.
How often should you get an EKG? Some doctors recommend an annual EKG in older adults with a history of heart disease.
What age should you start getting an EKG? Depending on your health history, your doctor may ask that you begin getting baseline EKG readings in your 30s.
How often should you get immunizations? Your immunization schedule will depend on your age, school/work requirements, even health conditions. The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for starters and any one of 3 COVID-19 vaccines. If you’re wondering where to go for annual flu shots and the COVID vaccine, urgent care locations in Los Angeles are an efficient, convenient option.
What age should you start getting immunizations? Children should start their regular vaccination schedule shortly after birth with a dose of the Hepatitis B (HepB) shot. Your doctor should be able to walk you through vaccines from that point forward, including vaccines as you grow older. That includes the shingles vaccine after age 50 and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) or the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) to prevent serious pneumococcal disease after 65.
Historical Illness Screenings
How often should you get historical illness screenings? Your doctor may recommend additional health screenings based on your family history at intervals of anywhere from 1-5 years. How often those screenings occur will depend on your age, the condition in question, even any symptoms you’re showing.
What age should you start getting historical illness screenings? Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting historical illness screenings.
Infectious Disease screening
How often should you get an infectious disease screening? The frequency of infectious disease screening will depend on potential exposure to an infectious disease.
What age should you start getting an infectious disease screening? Screening for STIs should begin as soon as you are sexually active. All adults should have a one-time screening for hepatitis C at some point, starting at age 18.
Extra Screenings for Women
How often should you get a cervical cancer screening? Cervical cancer screenings can be conducted with a Pap test or Pap smear. How often you get one will depend on your cancer risk. Most healthy women receive a Pap test every three years, although some doctors recommend combining a Pap test with an HPV test every five years.
What age should you start getting cervical cancer screening? The CDC recommends that women start getting Pap tests by age 21. Once you hit 65, your doctor may recommend that you stop screening if you’ve had normal results over the last ten years and no history of abnormal cervical cells during the previous 25 years.
How often should you get an HPV test? HPV tests detect HPV, an infection that can cause a variety of cancers, including cervical cancer. If your result is typical, you can wait five years before your next screening.
What age should you start getting HPV tests? Most women benefit from HPV screening starting at age 30. Women with symptoms of HPV or noticeable changes in their cervix during regular exams before 30 should be tested sooner.
How often should you get breast exams? Healthy women should receive breast exams as part of their regular health screenings every 1-2 years. These can become more frequent with a family history of breast cancer.
What age should you start getting breast exams? Clinical breast exams should be a part of your routine health screenings by age 20. This includes regular self-exams for new lumps and bumps.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
How often should you get STI tests? Routine STI testing on an annual basis is a good rule of thumb, even for monogamous adults. Women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should receive additional STI testing. If you’re sexually active with more than one partner or have a history of STIs, get tested more often. Reliant offers confidential and efficient STI testing in Los Angeles for anyone seeking fast, reliable results.
What age should you start getting STI tests? STI testing should become a routine part of your health screening history as soon as you become sexually active.
Extra Screenings for Men
How often should you get STI tests? Men should include regular STI testing as part of their annual health screenings. As with women, men with multiple partners or a history of STIs should get tested more often.
What age should you start getting STI tests? As in women, STI testing should become a routine part of your health screening history as soon as you become sexually active.
How often should you get testicular exams? A regular self-exam is recommended in most healthy adults to detect any lumps or swelling. Men with a family history of testicular cancer may want to include a testicular exam as part of their annual health screenings. Talk to your doctor about whether a self-exam is enough for you.
What age should you start getting testicular exams? Most doctors recommend regular self-exams by the age of 15.
Health Screenings for 40 to 64 Years Old
On top of the regular screenings you should already be getting from young adulthood, added screenings in the 40-64 age group are a key component of preventive care. For overall preventive health, follow all recommendations for adults 18-39 and add the additional screenings below:
Colorectal Cancer Screening
How often should you get a colon cancer screening? The frequency of your colon cancer screenings will depend on the type of test recommended. Colonoscopies are recommended every ten years, but a flexible sigmoidoscopy or virtual colonoscopy would only be recommended every five years. The frequency may also depend on the result of that initial test.
What age should you start getting colon cancer screenings? Regular colon cancer screening is recommended starting at age 45. Your doctor may recommend screenings before 45 if you have colon cancer in your family history.
How often should you get lung cancer screenings? High-risk individuals typically receive annual lung cancer screenings. If abnormalities are found, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings.
What age should you start getting lung cancer screenings? Lung cancer screenings should start at age 55 in adults with a history of heavy smoking in the past 15 years. Former smokers who have been cigarette-free for 15 years are at much lower risk.
Extra Screenings for women:
Breast Cancer Screening/Mammogram
How often should you get a breast cancer screening? How often women should get breast cancer screenings depends on their age.
What age should you start getting breast cancer screenings? Women 40-44 are typically offered the choice of whether or not to have their first breast cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends women 45-54 get annual screenings, and women over 55 can move to an every-other-year schedule. Women over 74 should talk to their healthcare provider about the risk vs. benefits of screening at that point.
Extra screenings for men:
How often should you get a prostate exam? Men should receive prostate exams every 1-2 years, depending on the results of their initial exam.
What age should you start getting prostate exams? Most men should start getting prostate exams by age 55. A family history of prostate cancer may mean earlier screenings. For seniors over 70, most doctors recommend against continued screening by that point.
65 Years and Older
Seniors over 65 have several additional screenings to add to their regular exams to ensure conditions more common in older adults are caught early and treated. Follow all recommendations for adults up to 64 and add the screenings below for a well-rounded healthcare routine:
Fall Prevention Screening
How often should you get a fall prevention screening? Seniors should get annual fall prevention screenings as part of their physical exams.
What age should you start getting fall prevention screening? Fall prevention screenings should begin at age 65.
Mental Health Assessment
How often should you get a mental health assessment? Cognitive health assessments and dementia screenings should be a regular part of a senior’s annual physical exam.
What age should you start getting mental health assessments? Some doctors may recommend adults start screening for depression by age 60 to better treat symptoms that become more commonplace in adults 65+. Screening for dementia typically begins at 65, unless that adult has a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
How often should you get Osteoporosis screenings? Osteoporosis screenings are recommended every two years, particularly in women, unless you are at a higher risk for the condition.
What age should you start getting osteoporosis screenings? Osteoporosis and bone density scans are recommended after age 65 unless there is a family history of osteoporosis or bone breaks at an earlier age.
Get the Most Out of Your Annual Exam Visits
Advocating for yourself is a key component of your overall health. If you have a concern, share it. Your doctor is your best resource for any health concerns, but you know your body best.
Before your visit
Before your annual visit, consider these tips to make the most of your exam:
Keep your appointment. Getting in the door is the first step toward preventive health.
Write down details of the reason for your visit.
Have a summary of your health history, including medications you’re on and family health history. Include supplements.
Prioritize pressing questions or concerns.
Have your paperwork done early, including your insurance information.
During your visit
Your time with your doctor is most important, and the time to get your questions answered and concerns addressed:
Be honest, especially when it comes to any bad health habits.
Ask questions, including those you may find silly at the time.
Take notes, including follow-up questions.
Listen to your doctor’s recommendations, but be vocal about symptoms and desired outcomes.
Relax. Find ways to stay calm during your appointment.
After your visit
Be thorough about following up and following through after your visit:
Schedule follow-up appointments and tests.
If you want a second opinion, get one.
If you don’t like your primary care physician, find one you’re comfortable with.
Keep up with tracking your health.
Maintaining your overall health is all about prevention. Whether you don’t have a regular doctor or it’s just been a while since you’ve had a preventive screening, urgent care can help. Contact us at Reliant to book an appointment with one of our healthcare professionals today.