Sure, you manage to brush your teeth and eat your fruits and veggies, but when it comes to making sure all internal systems are functioning optimally, chances are, you’re way behind schedule.
Educators tend to focus on nurturing students’ health and well-being at the expense of their own, but according to Evangeline Lausier, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Duke Integrative Medicine, “even a healthy 20-year-old needs to get the relevant screening exams at regular intervals.”
With the cost of health care on the rise, it’s more important than ever to protect your health, or at least catch medical issues early enough that treatment costs won’t be astronomical. Here’s a snapshot of health checks you shouldn’t skip:
EVERY 6 MONTHS
Visit the dentist. Having your pearly whites professionally polished is more about maintaining your health than vanity, particularly since 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 have gum disease. Beyond the inflamed, irritated gums, some studies have indicated that people with periodontal disease had an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and among women who are pregnant, giving birth pre-term and having a baby with low birth weight. A good dentist will check for oral cancer while you’re in the chair, poking and prodding your gums, tongue and other tissues in your mouth to make sure you’re in the clear.
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Get a skin check. The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is climbing, especially among people who had blistering sunburns during childhood. “People who are fair skinned, have a previous skin cancer, or who have a family history of melanoma should get checked annually, and in some cases, every 6 months,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In between visits, inspect your own skin (monthly, if possible). Look for moles that are: A (asymmetrical); B (irregular borders); C (change in color); D (diameter—anything larger than a pencil eraser is suspect). See examples in this infographic.
Visit your gynecologist, ladies. It’s important to get breast exams every 1-3 years for those between the ages of 20 and 39 to ensure your tissues are healthy and free of lumps, cysts and tumors. If you’re over the age of 40 and at “average risk of developing breast cancer,” experts recommend annual mammograms, too. Those who have 2 or more family members who have had the disease have a 5 times increased risk and may need to start younger and undergo more frequent screening and/or genetic testing. It’s important to talk to your doctor, as the need for these screenings is often determined on a case-by-case basis.
Get an eye exam. Optometrists recommend eye exams every 2 years for people between the ages of 18 and 60; and annually for people age 60 and over. Of course, if you begin viewing your students as pixilated rather than in high definition, seek annual eye exams sooner. With 2.2 Americans estimated to be blind by 2030 and 4.3 million estimated to have glaucoma by 2030, you’ll want to get regular checks, particularly since symptoms aren’t evident until vision loss begins.
Get your blood pressure checked. Beginning at 18, you should get your BP checked every 2 years. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney and eye problems, as well as heart failure.
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EVERY 3-5 YEARS
Check for diabetes. Get a blood glucose test starting at age 45—sooner if you’re overweight, have a family history of diabetes or if you’re trying to get pregnant. “Most people have diabetes for 2 to 3 years before they’re even diagnosed,” says Lausier. Diabetes (high blood sugar) can lead to heart problems, memory issues and vision difficulties.
Get a full lipid profile. Beginning at age 20, have your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels assessed. If your levels are too high, you may need to change your diet, up your exercise plan and if all else fails, take cholesterol-lowering meds.
Get your thyroid checked. If you’re over 35, or if you have symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, fluctuating weight, temperature issues or heavy periods, ask your doctor for a thyroid test, says Lausier. Left unchecked, a sluggish or overactive thyroid can wreak havoc on your reproductive and nervous systems, to say nothing of its effects on your sleep cycle and waistline!
Get a pap smear. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a Pap smear every 3 years (assuming normal results). “For women between the ages of 30-65, we recommend Pap smears in conjunction with HPV testing,” says Bevers. “If both results come back clear, they can push back screening to once every 5 years.” Experts agree that women over age 65 who have normal Pap smears can stop screening.
EVERY 5 (OR MORE) YEARS
Colorectal cancer screening. Get tested every 10 years beginning at age 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may require screenings earlier and more often. “In these cases, we initiate screening 10 years before the youngest case in the family,” says Bevers. Several different tests can detect colorectal cancer. Your health care team can help you decide which option is best for you. A couple of standouts: Annual high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) and sigmoidoscopy every 5 years.
Osteoporosis screening. Starting at age 65 for women and age 70 for men, it’s a good idea to have a bone density test to ensure your bones are supple and strong. Under 65? Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Women who are petite, white and have a family history of osteoporosis are at higher risk and may need to be screened sooner.
You are the expert on your body. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any changes in your health, including your emotional health, sleep disturbances, memory lapses and hearing problems. These are common occurrences, particularly with increasing age, so it’s important to alert your health care provider if you have concerns.
These are general guidelines. For more information about health screenings that are best for your personal situation, please talk with your doctor. You can also find information about health screenings and best practices at the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and Family Doctor.org.
NOTE: Information in this article is accurate as of October 2016.