When you’re in your twenties and thirties, it’s easy to brush off routine visits to the doctor. Why bother incurring that office visit co-pay when you don't feel sick anyway? Luckily, most insurance plans cover preventative care visits, and clearing an hour or two off your calendar now could save your health (and wallet) down the line. After all, the habits you develop as a young adult will stick with you for decades. To cover all your bases, start penciling in these six appointments this year.
01. Primary Care Physician
When to visit: once a year
When it comes to the basics, your primary care physician is the one to turn to. You may know this person as a primary care provider (PCP) or family doctor. He or she will perform a physical exam and ask general health questions. Your doctor will also assess your medical history and risk factors while looking for any changes or red flags. If necessary, he or she will refer you to a specialist or request specific exams. It’s essential to update your doctor with any lifestyle changes since your last visit. Honesty will only help your body and health.
It’s also important to request a full blood test to check things out on a metabolic level. Your comprehensive blood panel will include levels such as complete blood count, electrolyte and fluid balance, glucose, vitamins, minerals, and lipids. It also provides a snapshot of kidney and liver function, as indicated by levels such as your blood urea nitrogen. Your doctor will provide instructions for preparation, which often includes an eight- to twelve-hour fast. Once it’s done, treat yourself to a nice breakfast for being proactive about your health. You deserve it!
02. Eye Doctor
When to visit: once a year to every two years
The American Optometric Association recommends a visit to the eye doctor every two years until you reach 60. Depending on your eye health and family history, your eye doctor may request a yearly visit. He or she will check for signs of the four most common eye diseases: glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. These often develop after age 40, but routine checkups are vital for early prevention. It’s also crucial to note that of the 4.1 million Americans with eye problems, 2.3 million are women. This is due to our longer life spans and hormonal changes throughout our lives. So even if your vision seems fine, go get your eyes checked. Plus, if you wear glasses or contacts, your eye doctor can ensure that your prescription is up-to-date. How else are you going to read your favorite blogs?
When to visit: once a year
Contrary to popular belief, the skin doctor is for more than just acne and face peels. If you have a fair complexion or a family history of skin cancer, an annual checkup is recommended. Your dermatologist will perform a skin cancer screening by looking for suspicious lesions, moles, or spots. Be proactive and ask him or her what you should look for—knowledge is power. Even if you have darker coloring, you should still get checked, especially if you are exposed to the sun quite often. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women with white skin have the highest incidence of melanoma, but women of Hispanic and American Indian descent have enough incidences to make regular checkups for everyone a good idea.
When to visit: every six months
Of course everyone wants their smile to be as bright as possible, but did you know that taking care of your teeth is good for your overall health as well? According to the Mayo Clinic, oral health might affect, or be affected by, various diseases and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, so it’s a good idea to keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape. For basic cleaning and oral checkups, visit the dentist every six months. Your dentist will also check for cavities, gum disease, and signs of oral cancer. Once a year, your dentist will perform an X-ray of your mouth to check out your teeth and surrounding bones. If you’re in your early twenties, an X-ray can also spot incoming wisdom teeth before they start causing pain.
When to visit: every six months to once a year
Guidelines suggest that women begin seeing a gynecologist at age 21, regardless of sexual activity. You'll want to tell your doctor about your health in general, and of course bring up any irregularities in your period. Be honest about any sexual activity (or lack thereof) or concerns you have about your fertility. At a routine gynecologist appointment, you’ll receive a Pap smear, a pelvic exam, and a breast exam. During the pelvic exam, your doctor will check your reproductive organs for things that might affect fertility, such as signs of infection, growths, and abnormalities. The breast exam, which is a crucial part of breast cancer prevention, looks for unusual skin texture, discolorations, or lumps.
When most people hear “gynecologist,” they think of getting a Pap smear. The Pap smear, which checks for cell abnormalities in the cervix, is a preventative measure for cervical cancer. Most cases of abnormalities are due to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that has more than a hundredstrains and is very common. Some strains of HPV can be transmitted through nonintercourse genital contact, and many others can lie dormant and undetected for years. Not every Pap smear includes an HPV test—a Pap is simply looking for abnormal cervical cells—so be proactive and ask for the HPV test as well, especially if you've never had one before. Even if you've completed the HPV vaccine, ask for an HPV test because the vaccine doesn't cover every strain, so it's always worth checking to be safe. If everything comes back normal, and you aren’t experiencing any discomfort, pain, or abnormalities, then how often you need to see your gynecologist after that initial visit will vary based on your health and lifestyle. Ask your doctor for his or her suggestion—if you've never had any sexual contact, you're more likely to not require annual visits, and if guidelines have changed on the recommended frequency for testing, you'll want your doctor's particular recommendation for you. And of course, if anything changes, check back in.
06. Radiologist (Mammogram)
When to visit: once a year if family history of breast cancer
While breast cancer is rare in women younger than 40, yearly mammograms are necessary for those with a family history of breast cancer. Women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have a higher risk. Specific risks can be determined through genetic testing, which is recommended if you or a family member has a history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer. For genetic testing, your health-care provider will send a blood or saliva sample to the lab for analysis with results in one month. Because breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths of women ages 20-59, keeping tabs on your breast health can change everything. Luckily, breast cancer has a 93 to 100 percent five-year survival rate when caught at or before stage two. Without a family history of cancer, yearly mammograms are only recommended for women 40 and older.
Remember, these six appointments cover the basics. Think about the last time you had each checkup, and schedule accordingly. Depending on your family and medical history, your routine checkups might include visits to a specialist or other specific tests. As always, communicating with your doctors will help you stay on top of your health. Your body will thank you!