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Your age-by-age guide to annual checkups
It’s a good idea to see your doctor regularly at any age. But what happens during those visits changes as you get older. Here’s what to know.
Keeping up with doctor’s visits is important. That’s because your body and health are always changing. New health worries could come up at any time.
That’s where medical check-ups come into play. When you’re a kid, you might have more doctor visits. Your body changes faster when you’re younger.
Once you hit your 20s, you might see your doctor a little less often, if you’re in good health. You’ll want to schedule a doctor’s visit every year (or more often) as you get older.1
Doctor’s visits can look different depending on your age and health needs. What type is right for you or your loved ones? Find out below.
Birth to age 21: What is a well-child visit?
A well-child visit is a type of doctor’s visit for kids. Children grow up quickly, and they can have changing health needs. It’s important for their doctor to check their health and other aspects of their development.
At your child’s visit, the pediatrician will:2
- Do a head-to-toe exam
- Take measurements, such as their height and weight
- Give them preventive vaccines
During the visit, you can talk to your child’s doctor about anything having to do with your child. So, it’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions. Here are some topics that’ll probably come up:
- Your child’s growth and development
- Sleep and eating habits
- Any behavior issues you’re facing with your child
- Your family’s health history
Your child’s doctor will give you advice on how to stay on top of your child’s health and development.
Recommendation: The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents take their child for their first appointment when they are just three to five days old. And in the first three years, your child is likely to have as many as 10 visits. These will include developmental screenings, immunizations and well-child care.
Your child should see their doctor at least once a year for an annual checkup. This will continue until they’re 21.1 Your family doctor can give you more guidance on how often to see them.
What is a pre-participation physical evaluation (sports physical)?
Your child may need one of these exams. Depending on what state you live in, your school may require your child to get one to play sports. During the exam, your child’s doctor may check them for:3,4
- Any life-threatening or disabling health issues
- Bone, muscle, heart and brain health
- Anxiety disorders, depression or ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)
These exams can also take care of the needs of transgender athletes and athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities. These exams aren’t meant to replace a well-child exam. And your insurance may not cover them either. Check with your doctor before scheduling one.
Ages 22 to 64: What is an annual physical?
Once you reach the age of 22, you’ll start getting physicals from your doctor. “Annual physicals are important for adults as well as children,” says Tara Ostrom, MD. She’s an Optum Care internal medicine specialist in Phoenix. “It’s an opportunity to check up on your overall health and screen for chronic diseases.” These can include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
A physical is a hands-on exam. During this appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your general health. These might be about your family health history, eating and exercise habits. They also check your entire body. It takes between 30 minutes and an hour. Your doctor might:1
- Check your breathing and lungs
- Do a cancer screening
- Listen to your heartbeat
- Measure your height and weight
- Check your ears, eyes, nose, skin and throat
- Take your blood pressure
- Take your temperature
The exam may also include:
- Blood work, as needed, to check things like your cholesterol
- Preventive vaccines
- Urine samples, as needed
During your physical, your doctor may suggest or order other tests that you might need. For example, if you’re a man or were born one, your physical may also include an exam of your prostate or testicles.
Some of these tests may come at an added cost to you. Be sure to check with your doctor’s office so that you know what you’re getting.
Recommendation: If you’re in good health in your 20s or 30s, your doctor can help you decide if you need an appointment every year. “It is a good idea to have a physical every year if you are over 40,” says Dr. Ostrom. Ask your doctor how often to get an annual physical.
What is a well-woman exam?
If you’re a woman or were born one, you may see your doctor for an annual well-woman exam. The doctor might:5,6,7
- Do a breast exam (examining your breasts for lumps and other changes)
- Do a pelvic exam (examining your vagina and reproductive organs)
- Do a Pap test (cervical cancer screening)
- Measure your height and weight
- Check your blood pressure and temperature
This visit is also a chance to discuss pregnancy planning, birth control options and menstrual issues. Your insurance may cover this exam. If you’re unsure, the best thing to do is ask your doctor.
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Age 65+: What is an annual wellness visit?
If you’re 65 or older and have had Medicare as your insurance for more than a year, you can get an annual wellness visit. This comes at no cost to you.8,9
If you’re thinking it’s the same as the annual physical, it’s not. An annual wellness visit is less hands-on than an annual physical. It’s simply a chance to meet with your doctor and talk about your current health.
Before your annual wellness visit, you’ll fill out a form called a health risk assessment. This will give your doctor a look at your overall health status. It will also let your doctor know about anything going on in your life that may put your health in danger.
You’ll sit down with your doctor for 20 to 30 minutes to talk about your health. Your doctor may check your height, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements. But you will not need to change into a gown.
With the help of your risk assessment, your doctor will:
- Go over your prescription drugs and over-the-counter supplements
- Make recommendations on what cancer screenings to schedule
- Make recommendations on what vaccines to schedule
- Do a depression screening
- Test you for learning or thinking issues (that could include testing for types of brain diseases)
During your appointment, your doctor will also ask some questions. You may talk about your daily health habits and family history. The doctor will focus on any risk factors that could raise your risk of certain diseases, says Dr. Ostrom. They might ask you:
- How often you drink alcohol, and how much
- Whether you use drugs
- Whether you use tobacco
Finally, your doctor will want to find out about any daily issues that might impact your health. For example:
- How easy or difficult it is for you to do things such as laundry, bathing and getting dressed
- If you’re getting enough exercise
- If you’ve been having trouble remembering things
- Your balance, to check your risk of falling
- Your general eating habits
The reasons you might need a physical or follow-up visit with your doctor can vary. For example, you may need to see your doctor more often if you have a medical condition such as diabetes. Or maybe you’re having memory issues that require evaluation. Your doctor may want to check on you more often. Check your health plan to find out about the costs of these visits.
Recommendation: If you’re 65 or older and have had Medicare for more than a year, schedule an annual wellness visit each year. Preventive tests normally don’t cost extra. But you may have to pay for other doctor’s visits. Check with your doctor or insurance company before scheduling them.
“Everyone should get an annual wellness exam,” says Dr. Ostrom.
- National Library of Medicine. Health checkup. N.d. Accessed March 23, 2023.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP schedule of well-child care visits. Revised November 1, 2022. Accessed March 6, 2023.
- American Family Physician. The Participation Physical Evaluation. Published May 1, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2023.
- National Library of Medicine. Sports physical. Last reviewed May 3, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Get Your Well-Woman Visit Every Year. Last updated December 22, 2022. Accessed April 4, 2023.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pelvic exams. Last reviewed June 2022. Accessed April 4, 2023.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Cervical cancer screenings. Last updated May 2021. Accessed April 4, 2023.
- Medicare.gov. Yearly wellness visits. N.d. Accessed February 27, 2023.
- Medicare.gov. “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit. N.d. Accessed March 23, 2023.
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