If you've ever felt like you're the only person in the world who's either afraid to go to the doctor, or you simply have a difficult time prioritizing routine appointments, you're not alone. A study conducted by three doctors in 2015 found that over a third of respondents avoided going to the doctor for one reason or another, even if they had symptoms or were long overdue for a visit to their family physician.
The reasons for avoidance were complex and nuanced, but no matter what, it all boils down to this: going to the doctor for routine appointments is super important when it comes to preventative care and general health. We challenge you to read through this list of doctor's appointments you should have every year and then schedule them all. You'll be more aware of your health and therefore feel more in control of it.
More Than Once a Year
- Dental Exam — Every 6 months: You should schedule a routine dental exam once every six months. Your dentist will clean your teeth thoroughly, check for cavities, cracks, decay, and measure/examine your gums. Once every 12 months, they'll take X-Rays. If your dentist finds any cavities or recommends other treatment, you'll need to schedule an appointment during their recommended time frame — typically within a month or two.
Once a Year
- Wellness Check / Physical Exam — Once a Year: Your primary doctor will take your height and weight, check your blood pressure and pulse, and draw blood that will be sent to a lab. Your doctor will also examine your ears, mouth, eyes, and reflexes. You typically need to fast before this appointment to ensure accurate results from your blood panel. At this time, you should also ask your doctor any questions you might have, and check in to see if there are any vaccines you should get.
- STD Screening — Once a Year: The CDC recommends getting screened annually for STDs for anyone who's sexually active. You may be able to have this done at your woman's wellness exam, or you can schedule a separate appointment. It's also recommended to be tested in between partners, or to increase frequency to once every three to six months if you have multiple partners. Everyone should get an HIV test at least once and more frequently if you're at a higher risk.
- Dermatologist — Once a Year: An annual visit to the dermatologist is recommended for everyone — no matter skin color or health. Your doctor will perform a full-body exam to check for abnormalities. Based on this exam and your skincare concerns and goals, the dermatologist may recommend more frequent screenings and/or a biopsy on a suspicious area of skin.
Every 2 Years
- Eye Exam — Every 2 Years: Schedule a routine eye exam once every two years to check for changes in your vision. Once you hit age 60, you should go once per year.
- Mammogram — Every 2 Years: Women over age 40 should have a mammogram every other year. Those with a family history of breast cancer may feel more peace of mind if they schedule once per year, or even if they begin having mammograms earlier in their life.
Every 3 Years
- Women's Wellness / Pap Smear — Every 3 Years: Medical guidelines say that any woman whose pap smear results came back as normal can wait three years until her next gynecological visit. If your results came back as abnormal, you'll need to schedule a follow-up exam in three to six months to determine the issue. You'll also need to schedule an annual pap smear until you begin seeing consistently normal results again. Pap smears check for any abnormal cells and are integral in catching cervical cancer in its earliest, highly treatable stages. During a woman's wellness exam, your doctor should also check your breasts, by hand, for lumps. You should begin receiving pap smears at age 21.
Every 5 Years
- Cholesterol Screening — Every 5 Years: Once over 30, you should have your cholesterol checked once every five years. If your test came back with concerns, you may need to go more frequently. You may be able to have this test run as part of your annual exam, and there are also health fairs that offer cholesterol screenings for free or inexpensively.
Every 10 Years
- Colonoscopy — Every 10 Years, After Age 50: At age 50 you should schedule your first colonoscopy, which tests for abnormalities in your colon. If it comes back normal and you don't have a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend scheduling once every 10 years.
Bone Density — Regularly After Age 65: Women are at a higher risk of having osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones) than men. You should schedule a bone density test once
you turn 65, and continue at a frequency recommended by your physician.
- Gene Screening — as Needed: We're fortunate enough to live in an age where we can have our genes tested for any hereditary cancers in a non-invasive, accurate way. It may feel scary going into it, but being equipped with that knowledge can make all the difference in the way we schedule our routine preventative exams, and can add many, many more years to our lives. Your doctor can help you navigate genetic test, and there are over-the-counter options available, too. For example, Color offers highly affordable tests, including a hereditary cancer test that screens 30 different genes, a hereditary high cholesterol test, and a BRCA test to check for mutations that may put you at a higher risk for breast or ovarian cancer.