Too often, doctor’s appointments are made before work or after an unexpected virus, but experts say planning a few key visits could protect your long-term health.
In fact, seeing a doctor before you get sick might be even more important than visiting them when you’re already sick.
From your annual physical exam to screening for sexually transmitted infections and an eye exam, here’s a guide to the doctor appointments you should schedule each year.
When it comes to health, seeing a doctor before you get sick might be even more important than visiting when you’re already sick.
A primary care doctor or family doctor may perform an annual checkup or physical exam.
Dr. Richard Wender of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania said Yahoo Life: “One of the most important ways to ensure you get really good health care, including preventive care, is to have a trusted source of primary care.”
During an annual exam, your doctor will ask you questions about your lifestyle, diet, exercise habits, and sexual history.
They will then perform a hands-on physical exam that may include listening to your lungs, taking your pulse, and examining your ears, eyes, chest, abdomen, and throat.
Your doctor will also perform routine tests for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, as well as address any health problems you may have and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Some annual appointments may include blood tests, a urine test, or an echocardiogram to check heart function.
During this appointment, you can also tell your doctor about any new health problems you’ve experienced, as well as talk about your family history and receive routine vaccinations.
It is also an opportunity to discuss whether preventive screenings, such as a colonoscopy or mammogram, are needed.
Both men and women should have a physical exam, and the tests for each patient will vary slightly. Men will likely receive a prostate exam, a testicular exam, a hernia exam, and a genital exam.
A woman’s annual checkup may include a reproductive and vaginal health exam and tests, although sometimes this is done in a separate well-woman checkup.
While younger people may have a primary care visit once every two years, after turning 50 or if you have chronic illnesses, it’s important to see your doctor every year.
Female Wellness Exam
In addition to a physical exam, some women may have a specific well-woman visit with a gynecologist, sometimes called an OB-GYN.
Gynecologists are specially trained doctors who care for and treat conditions related to the female reproductive system, including unexplained vaginal bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.
These doctors examine the vulva, vagina, cervix, and uterus. They may advise patients on contraception, sexual or gynecological dysfunctions, fertility, pregnancy and childbirth, and postpartum health.
During visits, some women may undergo a pelvic exam where the doctor will check the external and internal structure of the female reproductive system.
They can test for sexually transmitted diseases, provide contraception, and perform a Pap smear, which screens for cervical cancer.
They also examine the breasts to detect breast cancer.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women begin seeing a gynecologist between ages 13 and 15.
After an initial appointment, and unless there are health problems, women should see an obstetrician-gynecologist at least once a year.
Detection of sexually transmitted infections
While some women may be tested for STIs at their annual OB/GYN exam, others may opt for a separate screening test.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all sexually active women be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea, the most common and second most common STDs in the US.
Other STI screening tests include testing for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C.
Sexually transmitted diseases can be detected through blood draws and vaginal swabs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once.
Pregnant women should be tested for all infections early in their pregnancy.
All gays, bisexuals, and sexually active men who have sex with men should be tested for HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea at least once a year.
The USPSTF says there is currently “insufficient” evidence to suggest that men who only have sex with women be screened for infections.
Many STIs have no symptoms, so it’s important to get regular testing to catch any infection (which has reached record levels in the U.S.) early and treat it before it progresses and causes serious health problems.
It is important to get tested for STIs at least once a year, as STI cases in the US have recently reached record levels.
The saying goes: “You are never fully dressed without a smile.” So, to ensure your white teeth are sparkling, it’s important not to miss your annual or semi-annual dental appointment.
While many people visit their dentist after experiencing a toothache, the American Dental Association recommends that they visit a dentist “regularly.”
This may differ from person to person, but most dentists agree that people should have their teeth checked and professionally cleaned at least twice a year.
Even if you floss and brush your teeth twice a day and practice good oral hygiene, experts say a visit to the dentist is still necessary. These highly trained professionals can spot something that your untrained eye might have missed.
While most people will recognize the pain that comes with needing a root canal, there are times when a cavity can develop without the person realizing it. But if a dentist catches it early, you can avoid major dental work and a major dental bill.
And the work of a dentist goes beyond fillings. They can also check gum health and perform oral cancer screenings.
Health insurer Delta Dental says: “The truth is that many dental problems such as cavities, gum disease and oral cancer do not become visible or cause pain until they are in a more advanced stage, making the treatment and follow-up are all as extensive as possible.’
The skin is the largest organ in the human body and doctors emphasize that it is important to take special care of it.
A full-body skin exam is recommended to examine moles, freckles, and skin tags.
A dermatologist will examine your entire body, from your scalp to the bottoms of your feet, for suspicious growths, including raised, large, discolored, or misshapen moles and freckles.
The goal of the body scan, which only lasts 10 to 15 minutes, is to detect melanoma or other types of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people perform self-checks at home to find and monitor new marks and spots and watch how they change over time.
With any worrying growth, it is important to visit a dermatologist immediately: the earlier skin cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate.
If the doctor notices an abnormal spot, he or she may remove it and perform a biopsy to check for cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people ages 20 to 40 get a skin checkup once every three years, but says people can start earlier and do it more frequently if they have very fair skin.
From the age of 40, the recommendation is once a year.
However, some health experts recommend that all adults get a professional checkup once a year. Talking to your doctor can help you establish the right care plan for you.
Millions of people visit an ophthalmologist each year due to worsening vision. They find themselves squinting and end up in an optometrist or ophthalmologist’s office trying to read letters across the room, eventually discovering that they need glasses or contact lenses to see clearly.
While a visit to an ophthalmologist may be common for people with vision problems, they are not the only ones who need to make an appointment.
Dr. Alice Lorch, a comprehensive ophthalmologist at Mass Eye and Ear, told Yahoo Life, “A comprehensive eye exam is necessary to identify any underlying ocular pathology that the patient may not be aware of.”
There is much more than meets the eye when it comes to eye health.
Optometrists or ophthalmologists can also check for eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration. Some conditions, if left untreated, can lead to blindness.
If you do not have vision problems or are not at high risk for eye diseases, such as a history of medical conditions or diabetes, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s guidelines for eye doctor appointments vary.
People under 40 should visit the doctor every five to ten years.
People between 40 and 50 years old should make an appointment every two to four years.
People ages 55 to 60 should see an ophthalmologist every one to three years, and people ages 65 and older need an eye exam every one to two years.