A health check is an annual physical that you schedule with your doctor. This appointment will take a general look at how you are doing physically and mentally. You might have blood tests and other specific exams as part of the procedure based on your age, current health, and medical history.
Because everyone is a little different, the recommendations for an annual health check have several variables to consider.
What to Know for Your Health Check Appointment
You will want to arrive about 15-30 minutes early for your annual physical. If your schedule is tight, then it helps to have one of the first appointments in the morning or the one right after lunch so that there are fewer unexpected delays.
Your doctor will want to know the name and dosage of every medication and supplement that you take. It will help to bring your current vaccine record if it is available since you’ll want a tetanus and pertussis update if it has been ten years or more since your last update.
If you have had any cancer screenings, then you’ll want to have those available at this appointment as well.
The most important thing to remember about a health check is that you need to be honest. If you smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, or consume lots of caffeinated products, then this information will help your doctor counsel you about the steps needed to improve your overall health.
When Do I Need to Schedule an Appointment?
There is not a one-size-fits-all answer when considering the idea of scheduling an annual health check. That’s why it is broken into some specific categories for you to evaluate.
1. Are you under 30, healthy, and a non-smoker?
If you do not have any disease risk factors, which includes being overweight, and you are not taking prescription medication, then a health check every 2-3 years is a reasonable expectation. Women who are sexually active after the age of 21 should speak with their doctor about a Pap smear to start screening for cervical cancer. How often you should receive this screening will depend on your medical file.
2. Are you under 40 and healthy?
If you are between the ages of 30 to 40, then it is okay to get a physical every other year. Women should receive a baseline mammogram once they reach the age of 40, and then have this screening repeated every 12-24 months.
3. Are you over the age of 50?
Once you reach this age, then you should consider having a health check every year. This age is also when most doctors recommend having colonoscopies to screen for colon polyps and cancer issues. You’ll then repeat that exam every ten years unless there is a family history of cancer or abnormal test results.
4. Do you have a chronic condition?
Anyone who has a chronic condition that they manage every day should be seen at least once per year for a health check. Some common situations where this would be necessary is if you are overweight, have asthma, or struggle with allergies. If you smoke or take drugs, then you should see your doctor once per year at a minimum as well.
5. Are there any medications that you take?
If you are taking prescription medication for any condition, then an annual health check might be recommended. Your doctor will want to take blood tests in this situation to determine the effectiveness of your therapy. This appointment is also an opportunity to adjust dosage levels or look at other options for your treatment plan in the future.
6. Are you over the age of 65?
Once you reach the age of 65, you will be at a higher risk of becoming ill or requiring hospitalization if you become sick. You’ll want to schedule an annual appointment with your doctor to talk about receiving vaccines for pneumonia and influenza since you’re more likely to need hospitalization if you become sick. Depending on your specific medical situation, your doctor might recommend coming in for a health check twice per year to ensure you stay in good health.
7. Do you have risk factors for heart disease?
If your cholesterol numbers are high, then your doctor might prescribe statins as a way to lower your total numbers. This medication is very useful and safe for most people, but they can also cause some digestive issues or a mental fog that can be problematic. There is a small risk for liver damage too. Your doctor will likely want to see you at least once per year for a health check if this medication is necessary and you are under the age of 45. The frequency might increase if you have multiple risk factors, like a high BMI, extra body fat around the belly, or shortness of breath while performing regular activities.
You Are Responsible for Your Health
The annual health check is an opportunity for doctors to reinforce healthy lifestyle choices with you. Having access to this information makes it much easier to be responsible for the decisions that you make about your health each day.
If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or diabetes, then making a few lifestyle changes can offer more benefits than a single pill could ever provide.
This appointment can also help doctors to catch something that might be severe in its early stages when it is easier to treat.
It is important to remember that these are only recommendations. Your specific health status will dictate when, or if, you should book an appointment. When it comes to your health, it is usually better to err on the side of caution.