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What to expect at your yearly checkup

Patient at the doctors office taking the yearly wellness exam

Use this appointment to get an overall picture of your health. It’s also a great chance to ask your doctor any questions you might have.

You made an appointment for your yearly checkup. But you’re a little nervous. What should you expect when you get there? And how can you prepare for your appointment?

Don’t worry. This guide has you covered. Read on to learn what happens at annual health checkups, along with a few handy pre-appointment tips.

Why yearly health exams matter

Yearly exams are important for your overall health. “Screenings at these visits often catch diseases in earlier stages, making it easier to treat and prevent complications,” says Janice Johnston, MD. She’s a family medicine specialist in Glendale, Arizona.

Plus, making annual visits to your primary care physician (PCP) can help you keep tabs on how your health changes over time. For example, you can track your risk factors for diabetes, blood pressure and obesity. Let’s say your doctor notices that your risk for one of these diseases is higher from one year to the next. They can recommend lifestyle changes (and maybe even medications) to get your health back on track before things get worse.

Seeing your PCP every year allows you to create a stronger relationship with him or her, adds Dr. Johnston. Your doctor is a partner in your health care. It’s important to find a doctor you connect with.

(Learn about other important health exams you shouldn’t miss.)

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Yearly exam breakdown

First, your doctor will take several measurements to check your general health. These may include:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure

Next, your doctor will review your medical history and any medications you take. Your provider may also ask questions about smoking habits, drug and alcohol use, sexual relationships and mood. These are social factors that may affect your health, says Dr. Johnston.

This is a great chance to ask your doctor questions. Maybe you’re having side effects from a medication you’re on. Or you’ve noticed new pain that’s bothering you.

From there, your doctor will most likely do a physical exam. The physical exam may look different depending on your age, sex and what health conditions you have.

“Doctors tailor their exams to the patient,” says David Cutler, MD. He’s a family medicine doctor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

A few areas your doctor may check include:

  • Abdominal area
  • Pelvic area or groin
  • Breast
  • Rectal area

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Your doctor may also recommend laboratory tests to check on your organs and other body functions. Common laboratory tests include:

  • Skin
  • Blood sugar
  • Cholesterol
  • Kidney function
  • Liver function
  • Thyroid
  • Blood
  • Heart function

They may perform more tests depending on your age and the medication you take, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

3 tips to prepare for your appointment

Make sure you get the most out of your doctor visit. The more information you give your doctor at your appointment, the better. That way, your doctor will be able to provide the care you need, Dr. Cutler adds.

So spend a few minutes preparing for your exam in the days leading up to your appointment. Here are a few tips to help you get ready.

Tip #1: Take inventory. Make a list of any medications and supplements you take and the dosages. Your doctor will record this information so that other providers in hospitals, emergency rooms and specialty clinics can easily find it. This helps prevent mistakes and dangerous medication interactions when you seek care outside your PCP.

Plus, keeping your doctor up to date helps make sure they don’t prescribe anything that could lead to a dangerous interaction.

Tip #2: Gather your medical history. Jot down a cheat sheet of your health history. Have you visited any specialists since your last exam? Have you been to the emergency room in the last year? Are you trying to conceive? Any new symptoms from a medication or condition?

Make a note of it so you can share that information with your doctor. If this is the first time you’re seeing a PCP, write down the following:

  • Any medications you’ve taken
  • Past surgeries
  • Blood pressure (if you take it at home)
  • Any allergies you have
  • Adult vaccines you’ve received (including dates of COVID vaccines)
  • Family health history
  • Contact information of other doctors involved in your care

Tip #3: Ask questions. Make a list to bring to your appointment. It’s easy to get nervous at the doctor’s office. With a list in hand, you won’t forget anything once you’re in the exam room.

Are you curious about switching medications? Not sleeping well? Wondering how you can lose some weight? Write it all down. Asking questions lets your doctor understand all your concerns. “That way, they can address each issue during your appointment,” Dr. Johnston says.

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Additional source
Annual exam screenings: Cleveland Clinic (2021). “Why you need an annual physical (and what to expect)”