May 21, 2024
Your Yearly Doctors Appointments Checklist

I’ll gladly prioritize an infrared sauna session, a lymphatic drainage massage, or a Pilates class, but when it comes to my annual doctors’ check-ups, I couldn’t tell you if I’m up to date if my life depended on it. And I know I’m not alone. Whether it’s time constraints, fear of bad news, cost concerns, or lack of trust in the medical system, nearly one-third of respondents in a 2015 study reported putting off seeking medical care, even individuals with major health problems or who were experiencing symptoms.

So I polled health professionals from various specialties for the recommended yearly doctors’ appointments. Every expert I spoke to agreed that it varies person-to-person depending on family history, personal health history, and symptoms. Think of this as a general checklist to help you remember all the appointments you need, knowing that it may vary depending on health goals, concerns, and medical and family history, so work with your primary care doctor to tweak your timeline to work for you. Also note that this list does not include specialists you may need such as nutritionists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, etc. Bookmark and reference this checklist throughout the year, or better yet, schedule all your exams as soon as you finish reading this article and treat them as you would any other important event (I’ll be taking my own advice).

Your Yearly Doctors Appointments Checklist

Every Six Months

Dental checkup

Dr. Stephanie Hack, MD and founder of women’s health platform Lady Parts Doctor, suggested twice-a-year visits to the dentist for a cleaning and oral examination to prevent dental issues like tooth decay and gum disease and help identify symptoms of other health issues. Because your oral hygiene affects way more than just your teeth and mouth, it plays a massive role in your overall health and can say a lot about what’s going on with the body.

Once a Year

Physical exam

Consider this an overall check on your fitness to determine a health baseline (which should cover the complex spectrum of physical, mental, and emotional health). General measurements will be taken, such as your height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse. “The annual is essential to your health because it gives your primary care physician a chance to thoroughly review your medical history, any changes in family history to understand health risks, order appropriate preventative tests, and perform a comprehensive head-to-toe examination,” explained Roshini Singh, a direct primary care provider (DPC). “While we perform this examination, we also have the opportunity to do a review of systems. This means asking specific questions about symptoms that mean something to us as healthcare providers, and depending on a patient’s response, we will investigate it further. Many times, patients may not know what is important to tell us, and that’s why we ask certain questions.”

Lab work

Blood tests like complete blood count (AKA a breakdown of your red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, and hematocrit) and comprehensive metabolic panel (AKA information about how your liver and kidneys are functioning and details about your electrolytes, potassium, sodium, and calcium) are advised annually and can typically be administered in the same visit as your physical exam or ordered for a lab by your primary care doctor.

Well woman exam

If you have a vagina, a yearly well-woman exam in addition to a physical is important. This is a comprehensive exam tailored to your reproductive health, which includes a discussion about your health history, a physical exam, and, depending on your age and health status, a clinical breast exam and pelvic exam. According to Dr. Hack, the goal is to assess overall health and identify any potential health issues related to the reproductive system early. This exam may include a pap smear if your doctor recommends it yearly based on family or personal history, but for others, a pap smear may only be once every 3-5 years (more on that below).

Dermatology skin check

Expect a head-to-toe inspection from a dermatologist to assess for any skin abnormalities, lesions, or signs of skin cancers at least once a year (or more if you’re at higher risk). Your dermatologist will check your skin, nails, and scalp for signs of skin cancer, and evaluate moles and any skin growth for skin cancer. “Certain patients with higher risk or prior relevant dermatologic history may need to do this check more often than once per year,” Carmen Castilla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital advised. “How often you specifically need to be seen will be determined based on your overall sun damage, number of moles, family history, and personal skin cancer history.” 

“Annual dermatology visits are important to detect any possible skin cancers early when they are most treatable, to re-educate patients on sun protection and how to maintain healthy, clear skin, and to treat and evaluate skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, melasma, eczema, or psoriasis,” Clare Taylor, NP-C, a dermatology nurse practitioner and medical advisor at JSHealth conveyed. “Skin is the largest organ in the body and is our number one barrier to the outside world, providing us with the most powerful immunity.” This is also a chance to discuss any other skin concerns such as rosacea or acne.

Eye exam

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get an in-person eye and vision exam every year regardless of their eye health. Ronald Benner, OD, president of the AOA and an optometrist, told Verywell that the recommendation was recently changed to make sure people have a chance to be evaluated for eye changes, improve their sight, and prevent vision problems through early detection of eye disease. “Eye exams safeguard overall health by enabling the doctor of optometry to detect more than 270 serious health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancers,” Benner shared with Verywell.

Every 3-5 Years

Pap smear

As cited by the Mayo Clinic, doctors generally recommend repeating pap testing every 3-5 years for people with vaginas ages 21-65. However, if you have certain risk factors, such as a diagnosis of cervical cancer or a weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use, your doctor may advocate for more frequent pap smears, regardless of your age. Women age 30 and older can consider pap testing every five years if the procedure is combined with testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) test, which detects the presence of the virus that can lead to the development of genital warts, abnormal cervical cells, or cervical cancer.

In your 40s add:

Mammogram

Starting at age 40, Dr. Hack recommended an annual mammogram for breast cancer screening. According to new guidelines updated in 2024, women who are at average risk for breast cancer should start mammogram screening at age 40 and get one every two years until age 74. “This x-ray of the breast helps in early detection of breast cancer, even before symptoms develop,” Dr. Hack explained. “It’s a crucial step in breast health, significantly improving the chances of successful treatment if cancer is found.” That said, if a woman has a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase the risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene), she’s at a higher risk for breast cancer and the starting age for and frequency of breast screenings will be different.

Colorectal cancer screening

Beginning at age 45, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends being screened for colorectal cancer as it’s the key to preventing colorectal cancer and finding it early. Colorectal cancer screening methods include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Which test is performed and how early and often you need it done depends on factors like whether you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps, or inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

As Needed

STI screening

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine STI (sexually transmitted infections) screenings for sexually active individuals,” Dr. Hack said. The specific tests conducted and their frequency can vary based on individual risk factors, including age, sexual behavior, and other health conditions. “For example, yearly gonorrhea and chlamydia screening is recommended for sexually active women under 25 years of age and women 25 years and older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners or a sex partner who has an STD.”

According to the CDC, many STDs (used interchangeably with STIs) don’t manifest symptoms so the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. “Some curable STDs can be dangerous if they aren’t treated,” their website states. “For example, if left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can make it difficult—or even impossible—for a woman to get pregnant later in life. The chances of getting HIV if you have an untreated STD also increases.”

Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning or stopping any treatments, supplements, or medications. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.

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