I am approaching a “milestone” birthday; what health check-ups should I have at my age?
You’re not alone. Most people wait until they are sick to see a GP, so there is usually not much time in a visit to talk about preventive health as well.
So, should you book a check with your GP just to talk about what you can do to stay healthy? And if so, what should you discuss?
It depends on your stage of life.
Doctors won’t check you for everything
It may surprise you that there is no evidence that a “general checkup” will give you better health outcomes.
Some preventive checks in low-risk, otherwise healthy patients have shown no benefit, including some blood tests and imaging tests, such as whole-body CT scans or MRIs for cancer screening.
Besides being a waste of time and money, generic health screening presents another problem: It can lead to overdiagnosis, which leads to additional tests, appointments, anxiety, medication, and more. even operations. Ironically, it can leave you feeling less healthy.
That’s why doctors don’t “check everything,” but are guided by what you could personally benefit from, based on your personal history, as well as tests to show that the benefits outweigh the harms.
One of the main considerations for your doctor will be your age.
Young adults (20-30 years old)
The main evidence-based screening test for young adults is the cervical test for women. This is a five-year cervical swab that looks for human papillomavirus (HPV) and precancerous cells.
When young women show up for their Pap smear test, several other important preventative discussions often take place, including pregnancy prevention or planning.
Since young men do not need an equivalent screening test, they often miss the opportunity to talk about prevention.
Men and women in this age group should find a general practitioner with whom they feel comfortable discussing checks for STIs (sexually transmitted infections), skin cancer, mental health issues and intimate partner violence.
Even otherwise, fit and healthy young adults should consider talking to their GP about what they can do to prevent chronic disease over time. Health behaviors such as diet, sleep, smoking, and exercise levels in young adults increase or decrease the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. .
Finally, regular check-ups by dentists and optometrists can detect problems early.
Despite the adage “life begins at 40”, this is the age at which many of the things that can cause premature death are worth considering.
Current evidence shows benefits in measuring your blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk for heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and skin cancer.
If you are at higher risk for certain cancers (such as breast or colorectal cancer), screening for these may also start around this age.
It is also not too late to improve your longevity by changing your lifestyle. It is therefore important to discuss things like losing weight, quitting smoking, and improving your physical activity.
As with young adults, women should continue to have a Pap smear every five years.
And everyone should consider getting checked out by a dentist and optometrist.
Mental health can deteriorate at this age as well, as the strain of caring for children, aging parents, and demanding careers can all come to a head. The advice of a psychologist can be helpful.
Patients often comment on the 50th “birthday present” they find in the mail: a stool sample collection kit for colorectal cancer screening. While not the peak of your 50s, it is effective in saving lives by detecting this cancer early, with checkups recommended every two years.
Women will also be asked to start mammograms for breast cancer screening every two years (unless they have already started in their 40s, depending on their individual risk).
The third health problem to look for in your 50s is osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become weak and the risk of fractures increases. Osteoporosis is painless and is therefore often not discovered until too late. You can start checking your risk at home through an online calculator, like the one from the Garvan Institute.
Oral health and eye exams also remain important in this age group.
Several vaccines are recommended from the age of 65, including shingles and the flu, because your immunity begins to decline and your risk of serious illness increases.
Other preventive checks include those of your vision, dental health, hearing, and risk of falling. These often involve paramedical providers who can screen you, monitor, and treat you as needed.
Some of your other regular screenings will stop in the mid-1970s, especially for colorectal, cervical and breast cancer.
First Nations peoples
The above age-related recommendations are for people with standard risk factors. First Nations Australians are at higher risk of developing a range of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and some cancers.
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders may be offered more in-depth screening, on a different schedule, with some checks at an earlier age.
Although annual generic “check-ups” are not recommended, a conversation with your GP will help you determine your specific health risks and screening needs.
Prevention is better than cure, so make sure you have access to the evidence-based screening and prevention strategies that are right for you.
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