Health maintenance visit

Alternative names
How often you need a physical exam; Physical exam frequency

Definition

Even when healthy, adults should visit a clinician periodically. The purpose of these visits is to:

     
  • Screen for diseases  
  • Assess risk of future medical problems  
  • Encourage healthy lifestyles  
  • Update vaccinations  
  • Maintain a relationship with a doctor in the event of an illness

Health maintenance visits differ from visits needed by people who have medical problems that need to be monitored and treated.

Information
Even if you feel fine, it still important to see your health care provider regularly to check for potential problems. Most people who have high blood pressure don’t even know it. The only way to find out if you have hypertension is to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Likewise, high blood sugar and High cholesterol levels often do not produce any symptoms until advanced disease has occurred.

There are specific times when you should see your health care provider. Some guidelines include:

AGE 18 TO 39:

     
  • Go to the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning.  
  • If you have vision problems, have an eye exam every 2 years.  
  • Have your blood pressure checked every year. Watch for blood pressure screenings in your area. Ask your health care provider if you can stop in to have your blood pressure checked. Check your blood pressure using the automated machines at local grocery stores and pharmacies. If the systolic number (top number) is greater than 130 or the diastolic number (bottom number) is greater than 85, call your doctor.  
  • You should have 2 physical exams in your twenties. During the first exam, ask to have your cholesterol checked. Your height and weight should be checked at every exam. Other blood tests are not indicated in healthy young people.  
  • MEN should perform a monthly testicular exam. WOMEN should perform a monthly breast self-exam. If you are not sure what you should be looking for, contact your health care provider for instruction.  
  • WOMEN should have a yearly pelvic exam and Pap smear done to check for cervical cancer and other disorders. If your Pap smears are negative for three years in a row, your doctor may decrease the frequency of Pap smears to every 1 to 3 years.  
  • You should have a tetanus-diptheria booster every ten years.

AGE 40 TO 65:

     
  • Go to the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning.  
  • If you have vision problems, continue to have an eye exam every 2 years. Everyone (those with and without eye problems) should begin to have regular eye exams every 2 years after the age of 40. Once you turn 45, make sure that you also have tonometry done to check for glaucoma.  
  • Have your blood pressure checked every year.  
  • If your cholesterol level is normal, have it rechecked every 5 years.  
  • Have a physical exam every 1 to 5 years. With each exam, you should have your height and weight checked. Other routine diagnostic tests are not recommended.  
  • MEN should have a yearly rectal exam to check for colorectal cancer and prostate cancer after the age of 50. You should also have a stool guaiac test done every year and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 3 to 5 years. Patients at high risk for colon cancer (those with long-standing ulcerative colitis, prior colorectal cancer, prior large colorectal adenomas and strong family histories of colon cancer) should be screened periodically with colonoscopy.  
  • WOMEN should perform a monthly breast self-exam. If you are not sure what you should be looking for, contact your health care provider for instruction.  
  • WOMEN should have a yearly pelvic exam and Pap smear done to check for cervical cancer and other disorders. If your Pap smears are negative for three years in a row, have your Pap smear done every 1 to 3 years.  
  • WOMEN over the age of 40 should have a mammogram done every 1 to 2 years to check for breast cancer. After the age of 50, women should have a mammogram every year.  
  • You should have a tetanus-diptheria booster vaccination every 10 years.  
  • You should receive a flu vaccine every year after the age of 50.

OVER THE AGE OF 65:

     
  • Have an eye exam every 2 years. Make sure that you have tonometry done to check for glaucoma.  
  • Go to the dentist every year.  
  • Have your blood pressure checked every year.  
  • Have your hearing tested every year.  
  • If your cholesterol level is normal, have it rechecked every 3 to 5 years.  
  • Have a yearly physical exam. With each exam, you should have your height and weight checked. Routine diagnostic tests are not recommended unless your doctor finds an abnormality in your history or physical exam.  
  • Have a yearly rectal exam to check for colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. You should also have a stool guaiac test done every year.  
  • Every 3 to 5 years have a sigmoidoscopy exam or every 10 years have a colonoscopy. During this test, your health care provider will insert a telescope-like tube into a portion of your colon to check for cancer.  
  • WOMEN should perform a monthly breast self-exam. If you are not sure what you should be looking for, contact your health care provider for instruction.  
  • WOMEN should continue to have a yearly pelvic exam and Pap smear done to check for cervical cancer and other disorders. If your Pap smears are negative for three years in a row, have your Pap smear done every 1 to 3 years.  
  • WOMEN over the age of 50 should have a mammogram done every year to check for breast cancer.  
  • Get the following vaccinations:       o After age 65, get a pneumonia vaccine (pneumococcal vaccine - polyvalent).       o After age 50, get a flu shot (influenza vaccine) every year.       o Get a tetanus-diptheria booster (TD vaccine) every 10 years.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.