Many of our New Year’s resolutions involve health goals. We resolve to lose pounds, eat more vegetables, get better sleep, or work out regularly. While these are noble goals, one of the other most important things we can do for our health is to get regular health screenings. Spending an hour or two with your doctor now can potentially save you time and money on more appointments and expensive treatments down the line.
This year, make a resolution to commit to preventative care and talk to your doctor about the following issues.
Health Screenings by Age
As we get older, we are at higher risk for a variety of conditions. Fortunately, many of these conditions can be mediated—or even prevented—by regular screenings. Issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes can be recognized before they fully set in, allowing doctors and patients to create a preventative care plan. Risk factors for heart attack, stroke, or cardiopulmonary diseases can be spotted early on, and appropriate lifestyle changes can be enacted. Many cancers can also be identified in their earliest stages, typically resulting in higher rates of survival.
Based on the age range when most of these conditions are diagnosed, doctors recommend adding different tests to your annual screenings at different stages of life.
Children and Teens
Although kids usually aren’t at high risk for most of the health conditions we develop in adulthood, they should still get an annual checkup to ensure they are developing normally. Your child’s annual checkup might include measurements of height and weight, blood tests, and routine testing of vision and hearing. The annual checkup is probably where your child will be scheduled for any necessary vaccinations as well, and this is your best opportunity to ask any questions about their health or development.
In addition to these routine exams, teens may undergo mental health screenings and testing for STDs such as HIV. Depression screening, for example, should start as early as age 12 or even earlier if a child has risk factors such as a genetic predisposition or a history of trauma.
Early Adulthood: 20s
In our 20s, we often feel invincible. We imagine that no disease can touch us. However, many of the conditions associated with age first rear their ugly heads in our 20s, so routine checkups cannot be overlooked.
Starting at age 18, you should check your blood pressure every three years or so. Those with risk factors or early warning signs should be screened every year. Cholesterol screening also starts at age 20, and testing should be done every four to six years thereafter, according to the American Heart Association. However, people with diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol may need to undergo screening more often than others.
The most recent data suggests that pap smears should begin around age 21 and continue every three years until you reach age 65. Doctors also recommend undergoing annual pelvic and testicular exams throughout adulthood. Starting at this age, you should also schedule an eye exam every other year, unless existing conditions make an annual exam more appropriate.
Finally, it's important to check your skin and identify any unusual discolorations, growths, or lesions. If you find something unusual, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to ensure it isn’t cancerous or otherwise problematic.
30s and 40s
As we approach colloquial “middle age,” beyond our 30s, we may start to notice that our bodies aren’t working the way they did in our 20s. In addition to continuing the screenings that started in our teens and 20s, checkups for 30-year-olds and above should also include blood glucose screenings to test for pre-diabetes every three years, increasing this frequency in response to risk factors. A thyroid panel should also be performed every three years or so.
By 40, mammograms should be added to your annual screening list, and bone density screenings should be incorporated every two years. You should also schedule ovarian tests if you are at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Prostate exams should also start at this stage, although recommendations for frequency will typically depend on your doctor. The frequency may depend on your age, genetic risk factors, lifestyle, and family or personal history.
Older Adults: 50s, 60s, and Beyond
In our 50s and 60s, we should start adding in a variety of tests, including checking more often for high cholesterol, receiving coronary screenings for issues such as heart attack or cardiovascular disease, and undergoing fecal occult blood tests, which can detect early signs of colon cancer.
Colonoscopies should also be performed every decade or so.
In Cases of Disability
If you have a pre-existing disability, some of these recommendations may apply differently to you. You may be at higher risk of certain conditions and will require earlier and/or more frequent screening. Physical disabilities often occur alongside other issues, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
It’s especially important for those with neurodivergence or intellectual disabilities to have regular health screenings, as they often struggle with interoception—the inability to identify issues or sensations within one’s own body—which can lead to missed symptoms and delayed care.
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Preventative Care
Every person has different health needs and risk factors. If you haven’t begun preventative health screenings yet, you should talk to your doctor about what kinds of screenings are appropriate for your age, sex, and history, as well as how often those screenings should take place.
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