All adults should visit their health care provider from time to time, even when they are healthy. The purpose of these visits is to:
- Screen for diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Look for future disease risks, such as high cholesterol and obesity
- Discuss alcohol use and safe drinking and tips on how to quit smoking
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle, such as healthy eating and exercise
- Update vaccinations
- Maintain a relationship with your provider in case of illness
- Discuss medicines or supplements that you are taking
WHY PREVENTIVE HEALTH CARE IS IMPORTANT
Even if you feel fine, you should still see your provider for regular checkups. These visits can help you avoid problems in the future. For example, the only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly. High blood sugar and high cholesterol levels also may not have any symptoms in the early stages. A simple blood test can check for these conditions.
Below are some of the tests that may be done or scheduled:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Cholesterol (blood)
- Colon cancer screening test
- Depression screening
- Genetic testing for breast cancer or ovarian cancer in certain women
- HIV test
- Osteoporosis screening
- Pap smear
- Tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases
Your provider can recommend how often you might want to schedule a visit.
Another part of preventive health is learning to recognize changes in your body that may not be normal. This is so you can see your provider right away. Changes may include:
- A lump anywhere on your body
- Losing weight without trying
- A lasting fever
- A cough that does not go away
- Body aches and pains that do not go away
- Changes or blood in your stools
- Skin changes or sores that do not go away or get worse
- Other changes or symptoms that are new or do not go away
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO STAY HEALTHY
In addition to seeing your provider for regular checkups, there are things you can do to stay healthy and help lower your risk for diseases. If you already have a health condition, taking these steps can help you manage it.
- Don't smoke or use tobacco.
- Exercise at least 150 minutes a week (2 hours and 30 minutes).
- Eat healthy foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or nonfat dairy.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (no more than 2 drinks a day for men and no more than 1 drink a day for women).
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Always use seatbelts, and use car seats if you have children.
- Don't use illegal drugs.
- Practice safer sex.
Atkins D, Barton M. The periodic health examination. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 15.
American Academy of Physicians website. What you can do to maintain your health. www.familydoctor.org/what-you-can-do-to-maintain-your-health. Updated March, 27, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2019.
Campos-Outcalt D. Preventive health care. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 7.
Review Date 2/7/2019
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.