As the seasons change, it's a perfect time to get health screenings, immunizations and annual check-ups scheduled. Preventive care measures, such as annual physicals and screenings, can help identify and monitor areas of concern.
Health screenings can detect diseases or chronic conditions in their earliest stages when treatment plans are most successful. If any concerns are detected, physicians can then prescribe care plans to prevent conditions from worsening. Immunizations add another layer of protection, preventing infection or serious cases of communicable disease. At minimum, eligible adults who have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine or annual flu vaccine should get them as soon as possible.
Here is a guide to recommended health screenings and preventive care measures for adults based on age. All recommendations are according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force unless otherwise noted. These recommendations will differ if an individual has a family history or other risk factors for disease. Individuals should consult their physician for their specific recommendations.
Ages 18 – 39
Annual physicals with a primary care provider are recommended to ensure any health conditions are caught early and to stay up to date on immunizations. Some health plans require annual checkups with a primary care provider. Here are some additional screenings and appointments that are highly recommended:
- A cholesterol screening should be done at least once before age 20. Younger adults should be screened every five years while older adults should be screened every year.
- A full-body skin check will identify moles or marks of concern.
- Blood pressure: If normal with no additional risk factors, check it at least every two years. Those who have an increased risk of hypertension or a history of hypertension may need more frequent screening.
- Screening for infections such as Hepatitis C and HIV.
- Immunizations: Influenza, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), HPV (human papillomavirus) MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and COVID-19. Additional immunizations may be recommended depending on each person’s vaccine health history.
- Eye exam: For individuals who have good vision and no other eye problems, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye exam once between age 20–29 and twice between age 30–39.
- Dental exam: The American Dental Association recommends that most healthy adults with no dental problems have a dental exam and cleaning every 6 months.
- Women: A Pap test for cervical cancer should start at age 21, then every three years if results are normal up until age 65.
Ages 40 – 64
Annual physicals with a primary care provider should continue to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, full-body skin exam, weight and body mass index. Providers may recommend more frequent screenings if needed. Again, some health plans may require annual visits to a primary care provider. Here are some additional screening tests and appointments that are highly recommended:
- Diabetes screening: Get a blood sugar test at age 35, then every three years or upon physician recommendation if it is normal or if there are no risk factors.
- Immunizations: In addition to the vaccines listed above, the shingles vaccine is recommended at age 50.
- Colon cancer screening: Screening should start at age 45. Those at increased risk of colorectal cancer might need to start screening before age 45.
- Dental exams should be done every six months.
- Eye exam: The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends individuals with no eye problems or risk factors get a baseline complete eye exam with eye disease screening at age 40, then as determined by an ophthalmologist.
- Women: Per the American Cancer Society, women of average risk should check for breast cancer with a screening mammogram at age 40, then annually until age 55, then every other year after age 55. However, those with risk factors may need to get a screening mammogram earlier than age 40 and yearly after age 55.
- Men: Prostate cancer screening should be discussed with your health care provider starting at age 50, or earlier with risk factors.
Screenings and check-ups should continue as noted in previous sections. Here are some additional considerations for individuals aged 65 and older:
- Pneumonia vaccine: To help protect against pneumonia.
- Women: A bone density test is a special type of X-ray that tests for osteoporosis. Those at increased risk may need this test earlier than age 65.
- Eye exam: An annual or bi-annual eye exam to check visual acuity and check for diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
It’s a good idea for individuals to check with their health plans to see if they need a physical by a particular date during the year, as some health plans do require this. As always, individuals should talk with their doctor regarding screening recommendations and exams specific to their age, health history or risk factors.
James D. Grant, M.D., is senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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