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Even the Young and Healthy Need to See a Doctor on the Regular

You might feel invincible, but a regular check-up can catch health problems you didn't know were there — or know were coming.

Four young adults sitting around a table drinking coffee and laughingThroughout childhood, everyone else took care of you. Schools required vaccines and had nurses to help you during the day. Sports mandated annual physicals. Parents scheduled it all and took you in when you got sick. It was so easy (for you)!

As an adult, your health is in your own hands. You can no longer rely on everyone else. You don’t have school, sports or mom to prompt your check-ups — even though regular visits to the doctor are still important.

I feel fine. Why do I need a doctor?

You’re young. You’re healthy. But you are not invincible.

At some point, you will get sick or injured. You need a primary care provider who knows you and understands your medical history to guide you through health care decisions.

Primary care providers keep you healthy.

Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider creates continuity of care, meaning you have someone else watching out for your health. Just like all those caring people when you were a kid.

Your provider serves as the point person for all your health care. They’re the one you see for wellness visits and when something’s wrong. When your treatment requires other health professionals, they refer you to specialists and follow up on your care.

Regular check-ups catch problems early.

Like your home, car or bike, your body needs regular checks and maintenance to stay in peak condition. Your height, weight, heart rate and blood pressure are checked at every office visit to establish your baseline health. Questions about your diet, exercise, prescriptions, alcohol and tobacco use and other lifestyle habits are commonly asked as part of your medical history. Anything out of the ordinary alerts your care team to potential health issues, so you can take steps to prevent them.

Makes sense. So I should get an annual physical?

About that...Despite being a long-standing ritual in modern medicine, there is no medical evidence that an annual physical improves your health. The Society of General Internal Medicine advises against annual physicals for healthy individuals. The battery of tests traditionally done as part of an annual physical are unnecessary. They should only be done to monitor a particular condition or check new symptoms and changes in your health.

That doesn’t mean you should skip regular visits with your doctor. The annual check-up is still common practice, but your doctor may want to see you more or less often, depending on your health. Chances are, your visit won’t include a comprehensive physical exam. Instead, you’ll check in with your doctor and update them on any changes in your health. They may run appropriate preventive tests based on your answers and your age.

Regular check-ups with your provider also strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and help in maintaining your health. Infrequent visits make it harder for both of you to remember when symptoms started or if a health event in the past is playing a role in your current condition. Even if nothing’s wrong, there’s a benefit to talking to your doctor regularly. There’s more time to ask questions or get guidance on improving your overall wellness.

Okay, physicals are out. Then what health checks do I need at my age?

You’re in control of your health. Watch it carefully. Monitor changes in your body, keeping tabs on when symptoms start and how long they last. Be on the lookout for changes in your skin, pain, dizziness, fatigue, trauma or distress, anxiety or depression, sleeping problems and general feelings of wellness. Talk to your doctor as soon as you have concerns.

As you get older, the preventive tests and screenings increase. In your twenties and thirties, they are minimal. But they’re just as important. Prevention is the key to maintaining good health and living longer. And that prevention starts with you taking control of your health.

Stay current on your vaccines.

It’s important to stay up to date on your immunizations. Shots protect you against illness and disease. For many diseases, a single shot provides immunity. The flu shot is the only annual vaccination you may need since the most common strains change every year. Here’s the recommended vaccination schedule for adults 19 and older (pulled from the CDC).

Vaccine 19-21 years 22-26 years 27+ years
Influenza 1 dose annually
Tdap or Td 1 dose Tdap, then Td booster every 10 yrs
MMR 1 or 2 doses depending on indication
VAR 2 doses
HPV-Female 2 or 3 doses depending on age at series initiation
HPV-Male 2 or 3 doses depending on age at series initiation 2 or 3 doses depending on age at series initiation*
PCV13 1 dose*
PPSV23 1 or 2 doses depending on indication*
HepA 2 or 3 doses depending on vaccine*
HepB 3 doses*
MenACWY 1 or 2 doses depending on indication, then booster every 5 yrs if risk remains*
MenB 2 or 3 doses depending on vaccine*
Hib 1 or 3 doses depending on indication*

*Recommended for adults with other indications

Check yourself for cancer.

Monthly checks of the skin, testicles and breasts can spot the signs of cancer before it progresses. Changes in the appearance of your skin — like skin color or the size and shape of a mole — should prompt a skin cancer screening. Men should be screened for testicular cancer to look for lumps or abnormalities.

Women need a clinical breast exam every three years in addition to regular self-examinations. The clinical exam typically happens at the same time as a Pap test and pelvic exam that check for signs of cervical cancer. Adult women should schedule a Pap and pelvic exam every three years until they hit retirement age.

Take an STD test.

You can’t assume that you’ll be screened for sexually transmitted diseases as part of a regular check-up. Be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity. If you’re sexually active and you or your partner have had multiple partners, you should be tested for STDs. The CDC recommends HIV tests for all adults at least once, and a variety of screens depending on your age, gender and sexual activity.

Get your eyes checked.

An annual vision exam is often covered by insurance. If you have this benefit, take advantage. At minimum, you should get a complete eye exam at least once in your twenties. If your family has eye problems or you experience changes in your vision, you should get your eyes checked more often.

The body is a complex beast. And so is health care. Finding a primary care provider and building a health partnership is one of the most important things you can do maintain your good health.

So do it while you’re still young.

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