You should visit your health care provider from time to time, even if you are healthy. The purpose of these visits is to:
- Screen for medical issues
- Assess your risk for future medical problems
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle
- Update vaccinations
- Help you get to know your provider in case of an illness
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.
There are specific times when you should see your provider. Below are screening guidelines for women ages 40 to 64.
BLOOD PRESSURE SCREENING
- Have your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years. If the top number (systolic number) is from 120 to 139 mm Hg, or the bottom number (diastolic number) is from 80 to 89 mm Hg, you should have it checked every year.
- If the top number is 130 or greater or the bottom number is 80 or greater, schedule an appointment with your provider to learn how you can reduce your blood pressure.
- If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or certain other conditions, you may need to have your blood pressure checked more often, but still at least once a year.
- Watch for blood pressure screenings in your area. Ask your provider if you can stop in to have your blood pressure checked.
BREAST CANCER SCREENING
- Women may do a monthly breast self-exam. However, experts do not agree about the benefits of breast self-exams in finding breast cancer or saving lives. Talk to your provider about what is best for you.
- Your provider may do a clinical breast exam as part of your preventive exam.
- Women ages 40 to 49 may have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. However, not all experts agree about the benefits of having a mammogram when women are in their 40s. Talk to your provider about what is best for you.
- Women ages 50 to 75 should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years, depending on their risk factors, to check for breast cancer.
- Women with a mother or sister who had breast cancer at a younger age should consider yearly mammograms. They should begin earlier than the age at which their youngest family member was diagnosed.
- If you have other risk factors for breast cancer, your provider may recommend a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or MRI scan.
CERVICAL CANCER SCREENING
Cervical cancer screening should start at age 21. After the first test:
- Women ages 30 through 65 should be screened with either a Pap test every 3 years or the HPV test every 5 years.
- If you or your sexual partner has other new partners, you should have a Pap test every 3 years.
- Women ages 65 through 70 can stop having Pap tests as long as they have had 3 normal tests within the past 10 years.
- Women who have been treated for precancer (cervical dysplasia) should continue to have Pap tests for 20 years after treatment or until age 65, whichever is longer.
- If you have had your uterus and cervix removed (total hysterectomy), and you have not been diagnosed with cervical cancer, you do not need to have Pap smears.
- Recommended starting age for cholesterol screening is age 45 for women with no known risk factors for coronary heart disease.
- Once cholesterol screening has started, your cholesterol should be checked every 5 years.
- Repeat testing sooner than needed if changes occur in lifestyle (including weight gain and diet).
- If you have high cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or certain other conditions, you may need to be checked more often.
COLORECTAL CANCER SCREENING
If you are under age 50, talk to your provider about getting screened. You should be screened if you have a strong family history of colon cancer or polyps. Screening may also be considered if you have risk factors such as a history of inflammatory bowel disease or polyps.
If you are age 50 to 75, you should be screened for colorectal cancer. There are several screening tests available:
- A fecal occult blood (stool-based) test done every year
- A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
- A stool DNA test every 3 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Double contrast barium enema every 5 years
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
You may need a colonoscopy more often if you have risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as:
- Ulcerative colitis
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer
- A history of growths in the colon called adenomatous polyps
- Go to the dentist once or twice every year for an exam and cleaning. Your dentist will evaluate if you have a need for more frequent visits.
- If you are over age 44, you should be screened every 3 years.
- Having a BMI over 25 means that you are overweight. If you are overweight, ask your provider if you should be screened at a younger age. Asian Americans should be screened if their BMI is greater than 23.
- If your blood pressure is above 130/80 mm Hg, or you have other risk factors for diabetes, your provider may test your blood sugar level for diabetes.
- Have an eye exam every 2 to 4 years ages 40 to 54 and every 1 to 3 years ages 55 to 64. Your provider may recommend more frequent eye exams if you have vision problems or glaucoma risk.
- Have an eye exam at least every year if you have diabetes.
- You should get a flu shot every year.
- Ask your provider if you should get a vaccine to reduce your risk of pneumococcal infection (causes a type of pneumonia).
- You should have a tetanus-diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine once as part of your tetanus-diphtheria vaccines if you did not receive it previously as an adolescent. You should have a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years.
- You may get a shingles or herpes zoster vaccine at or after age 50.
- Your provider may recommend other immunizations if you are at high risk for certain conditions.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE SCREENING
- The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for hepatitis C. Depending on your lifestyle and medical history, you may need to be screened for infections such as syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV, as well as other infections.
LUNG CANCER SCREENING
You should have an annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) if all of the following are present:
- You are over age 55 AND
- You have a 30 pack-year smoking history AND
- You currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years
- All women over age 50 with fractures should have a bone density test (DEXA scan).
- If you are under age 65 and have risk factors for osteoporosis, you should be screened.
- Your blood pressure should be checked at least every year.
- Your provider may recommend checking your cholesterol every 5 years if you have risk factors for coronary heart disease.
- Your height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) should be checked at each exam.
During your exam, your provider may ask you about:
- Diet and exercise
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Safety issues, such as using seat belts and smoke detectors
- Your provider may check your skin for signs of skin cancer, especially if you're at high risk. People at high risk include those who have had skin cancer before, have close relatives with skin cancer, or have a weakened immune system.
Health maintenance visit - women - ages 40 to 64; Physical exam - women - ages 40 to 64; Yearly exam - women - ages 40 to 64; Checkup - women - ages 40 to 64; Women's health - ages 40 to 64; Preventive care - women - ages 40 to 64
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Review Date 4/19/2020
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.