Who Let The Doc Out?! #001: How often to have a routine health check

Routine checks

For many people, a routine health check is considered an important part of living a fuller and healthier life.

However, a lot of people are also unsure about the benefits of routine health checks, and when they should have them. This article will answer these questions and shed a little more light on the processes involved in routine health checks.

How often should you have a routine health check?

In the past, most medical groups advised people to have annual routine health checks.

However, recent research has shown that this carries no significant benefits and does not reduce the prevalence of diseases.

Instead, scientists have narrowed down the recommended frequency of routine health checks for adults according to age as follows:

  • 18 to 50 years: Once every three to five years.
  • Over 50 years: Once every year

The frequency of visits will vary for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, with primary care physicians usually preferring to see these patients multiple times in a year.

People at higher risk for certain conditions like smokers or people with familial histories of diseases may also need to have more frequent visits to increase the possibility of early diagnosis and treatment.

What are the benefits of routine health checks?

Routine health checks are important primarily because they serve as a means of finding health issues in a person before they advance to more severe stages.

Other benefits include

  • Regular monitoring of existing health problems which lowers the risk of complications or exacerbation of the condition
  • Health education on ways to live a healthy long life
  • Regular evaluation of a person’s physical and mental state, allowing them to make lifestyle modifications to correct any issues
  • Staying up to date on vaccination and routine screening tests.
  • Reduced healthcare costs associated with treating advanced disease that was not caught early.

What happens in a routine health check?

A routine health check will often involve three primary processes:

  • Verification of your clinical history, which may include any previous serious illnesses, any medications you have been on, any surgeries you have had, allergies, and lifestyle choices.
  • A full clinical examination, where a doctor will carry out a general and systemic examination which will include your vital signs like blood pressure and pulse rate.
  • Any tests the doctor may deem necessary after your clinical history and exam.

Along with your vital signs, a routine health check will include your height and weight.

Previously, tests like electrocardiograms  and blood chemistry were done routinely at health checkups, but they are gradually being left out of routine health checks unless the doctor’s findings on history and examination suggest the need for these tests.

How to prepare for a routine health check

It is common for people to feel apprehensive going into a routine health check. There can be some anxiety about any possible conditions that may be discovered during the health check.

Here are a few things you can do to make your routine health check a little less uncomfortable for yourself:

  • Schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Having a regular primary care physician allows for continuity of care and also fosters the formation of a doctor-patient bond which makes clinical appointments less uncomfortable. If you do not have one, you can ask a trusted friend or family member to recommend someone they have had good experiences with before.
  • Note down any questions you may have for the doctor.
  • Have a friend or relative accompany you to the appointment.
  • Check with your insurance provider if routine health checks are covered under your plan to avoid unexpected expenses.

Health check considerations according to gender

There are gender-specific considerations that are made regarding routine health checks. These also vary according to age, and may vary depending on what part of the world you are from.

For women

  • Clinical breast exams every 3 years from 20 to 74 years
  • Mammograms every year from 50 to 74 years
  • Pap smears at least every 3 years from 21 to 65 years
  • High cholesterol screening from 45 years onward
  • Osteoporosis screening from 65 years onward

For men

  • Annual prostate exam from 50 years onward, although frequency may vary depending on your doctor
  • Men over 40 years of age may also opt to do routine prostate specific antigen  (PSA) testing to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for patients between 65 to 75 years old with a history of smoking

Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer currently working at Adjumani Hospital. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.