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When Do You Need To Get A Wellness Checkup

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Oct 08, 2018
Last Modified Date: Oct 08, 2018
Published Date: Aug 02, 2017

You Need a Wellness Check! Find out Why

Most of us know that seeing the doctor for a wellness checkup on a regular basis is recommended as part of basic preventive health care. However, not everyone makes those physical exams a priority. So why are they important and just how often should the average person get these routine checkups? Do some people need them more or less often than others? Just what do doctors look for during a complete physical exam? Here we'll get into the details about wellness exams, including when you should have them and what you can expect when you see your doctor.

About Wellness Checkups

The goals of regular wellness checkups are very important ones (PDF); to keep tabs on your overall health, help you avoid preventable health problems and aid in ensuring that emerging health issues are caught and treated early, before they develop into major or chronic health problems. They are also very important in helping your doctor become familiar with you and your overall health, which is vital to promoting the good working relationship you need with your health care provider to ensure the best level of care.

So how often should you be seeing your doctor for a complete physical exam and what can you expect to be done during these appointments? The answers to those questions depend on factors like your stage of life, your gender and your personal health history, so your personal needs may vary slightly from the following general guidelines:

Wellness Checkup Guidelines for Men

An annual wellness exam is recommended for young men, ages 18 to 21, while men ages 22 to 49 should have a complete physical exam at least once every 4 years. Men age 50 to 64 need a wellness exam every 2 years, and men age 65 and over should be seen once every year. Men can expect their doctors to perform a thorough, head-to-toe physical examination, go over their personal and family health histories, and question them about any medications – prescription, non-prescription and supplements – they are taking regularly. Vital signs, such as blood pressure and body mass index will be evaluated, basic vision and hearing screenings are generally done, and current vaccinations evaluated to ensure that they are up-to-date.

Health screening tests are also done in the course of wellness exams. Tests done in men of all ages may include a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), which provides an overview of general health by looking at factors like blood glucose (sugar) levels and waste products in the blood that indicate how well organs, like the kidneys and liver are functioning. A complete blood count (CBC) is usually done, which looks at the composition of the blood, measuring red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit to screen for indications of common problems, such as anemia or infection, among others. A urinalysis may also be performed to look for indications of common health issues.

In men over age 35 lipid panels, which evaluate cholesterol levels, are done at least every 5 years, and men 50 years of age or older are generally screened for early signs of colon and prostate cancer. A screening for hepatitis C is also recommended for men of this age group.

Wellness Checkup Guidelines for Women

An annual checkup is recommended for women between the ages of 18 and 21, while women age 22 to 49 should be seen for a complete physical exam at least once every 4 years. Women age 50 to 64 should have wellness exams at least every 2 years, and women over age 65 should be seen every year. As with men, women can expect a thorough physical examination, a detailed evaluation of personal and family health history, an examination of vital signs and vaccinations.

Basic health screening tests are typically done for women of all ages including a CMP, CMC and urinalysis. Pap tests, which look for indications of cervical cancer, should be done at least every three years in women over age 21, and women under age 30 should be screened for chlamydia. Cholesterol should be tested at least every 5 years, and mammograms should be performed every year or two in women over 40 to screen for breast cancer. Women over 65 need bone density screenings, annual blood pressure checks, periodic colon cancer screenings, and should be screened at least once for hepatitis C.

These guidelines reflect the minimum standards for preventive care in adults. Many health care professionals recommend an annual wellness exam for adults of all ages, and even if you've been given a clean bill of health thus far, having a complete physical exam before you begin a new weight-loss or exercise plan is always a good idea, as is having any unusual symptoms or changes in your general health evaluated by your doctor immediately.

Some of the media in this article come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #11199. Data is courtesy of the CDC: Table 65. Cholesterol among adults aged 20 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1988-1994 through 2007-2010. Data shown was gathered between 2007 and 2010.