woman consulting with doctor
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Routine Physical Exam

Some people see their doctor every year for a physical to make sure everything is OK. There's debate about whether you need to go that often. In the end, it depends on your:

  • Age
  • General health
  • Risk factors for certain problems

Your doctor will ask you about your health and lifestyle. They'll listen to your heart and lungs and probably get your weight and vital signs.

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bmi calculator
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Height and Weight

Whether you go for a regular physical or some other checkup, your doctor probably will get your height and weight. They need it to measure your BMI (body mass index). Keeping your BMI in a healthy range helps protect you from things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Your BMI is based on a formula of height and weight. If you're not in the healthy range, your doctor will suggest ways to help get you there.

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man having blood pressure checked
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Blood Pressure

Yours rises as your heart beats and falls as it relaxes. It’s a measure of the pressure of the blood in your arteries. If it's too high, your chances of heart disease and stroke go up. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80. Doctors define high blood pressure, or hypertension, as 140 over 90 or higher. You should get your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years. If it's high, you may have to take it more often. Ask your doctor how often you should have yours taken.

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vials of blood
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Cholesterol

This is how much fat is in your blood. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke. You should get cholesterol checked every 4-6 years if you're older than 20 and don't have heart or blood vessel disease. If you do have one of those, they’ll likely recommend that you get checked more often. Some experts suggest that men wait until age 35 and women wait until 45 to get their cholesterol checked, unless you have a risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

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colonoscopy in progress
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Colorectal Cancer Screening

Tests look for cancer in the colon or rectum by checking for blood there or for tissue growths called polyps. If you don't have a high risk for cancer, start to get tests when you turn 50. Fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) should be done yearly. A sigmoidoscopy, where your doctor checks part of your colon, should happen every 5 years. A colonoscopy, where the doctor looks at your entire colon, should be done every 10 years.

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nurse checking glucose
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Blood Sugar Test

This is a way to check for diabetes or prediabetes. You should get your first test at age 45. The test is strongly recommended -- even if you're younger -- if you're overweight or have diabetes risk factors like high blood pressure. In that case, you should be tested at least every 3 years. It's a simple test that measures the level of sugar (also called glucose) in your blood.

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doctor checking mole
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Skin Check

It's a good idea to check for any changes in moles, freckles, and other marks on your skin. Experts say you should do a skin self-exam once a month. When skin cancers are found early and treated, they're almost always curable. If you or someone in your family has had skin cancer, it might be smart to have your skin looked over regularly by a doctor.

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woman doing self breast exam
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Breast Exam

If you're a woman, you should get a breast exam every 3 years starting in your 20s. Once you hit age 40, you should have the exam every year. It gives you a chance to talk about any changes in your breasts and discuss anything in your health history that might make breast cancer more likely. You can also make sure you know how to do self-exams if you want to.

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mammogram
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Mammogram

This is an X-ray that looks for changes in your breasts. Some experts say you should have one every year once you turn 40. Others say every 2 years starting when you're 50, until age 74. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

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pap smear
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Pap Test

Sometimes called a Pap smear, these check for cancers in your cervix. Your doctor uses a small stick or brush to take a few cells from your cervix to test. Starting at age 21 through 29, women should have the test every 3 years. If you're between 30 and 64, you should get both a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every 5 years, or just a Pap test every 3 years. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

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doctor with patient
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Male Physical Exam

A routine physical for men might include a checkup of the penis and testicles. The doctor will check your testicles for tenderness, lumps, or changes in size. For the penis, the doctor might notice signs of sexually transmitted illness like warts or ulcers. To check for a hernia, they'll ask you to “bear down” or "turn your head and cough." Your doctor may check your prostate for size and problems by putting a finger into your rectum.

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dental exam
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Dental Checkup

Hopefully you brush and floss every day. But it's smart to also see a dentist regularly so they can look for cavities, gum disease, and other problems in your mouth. You may need to go once or twice a year. It depends on your oral health and what you need to do to keep your mouth and smile looking and feeling good.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 03/15/2019 Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 15, 2019

IIMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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2)         Thinkstock

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SOURCES:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "Breast Cancer (Screening)," "Colorectal Cancer," "Lipid Disorders in Adults," "Obesity in Adults."

American Academy of Dermatology: "Melanoma: Tips for finding and preventing."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Annual Exams? Tailor Visit Frequency to Patients' Needs," "Summary of Recommendations for Clinical Preventive Services, 2014."

American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms."

American Cancer Society: "Screening Recommendations by Age," "Skin exams."

American Heart Association: "How To Get Your Cholesterol Tested," "Understanding Blood Pressure Readings."

Giannobile, W. Journal of Dental Research, 2013.

Krogsboll, L. BMJ, 2012.

MouthHealthy, American Dental Association: "Questions About Going to the Dentist."

National Cancer Institute: "Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps."

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "Diagnosis of Diabetes and Prediabetes."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Calculate Your BMI."

Piedmont Healthcare: "A yearly physical can save your life."

Richards, D. Evidence-Based Dentistry, 2002.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: "Blood Pressure in Adults (Hypertension): Screening," "Breast Cancer: Screening," "Cervical Cancer: Screening," "Colorectal Cancer: Screening," "Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) in Adults: Screening," "Lipid Disorders in Adults (Cholesterol, Dyslipidemia): Screening," "Obesity in Adults: Screening and Management," "Skin Cancer: Screening."

University of California, San Diego: "A Practical Guide to Clinical Medicine: Male Genital and Rectal Exam."

UptoDate: "Definition, risk factors, and evaluation of resistant hypertension."

WomensHealth.gov: "Pap test."

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on March 15, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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