Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on January 27, 2022

Routine Physical Exam

1/13

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.

Height and Weight

2/13

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.

Blood Pressure

3/13

It’s a measure of the pressure of your blood against 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 130 over 80 or higher. You should get your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years starting at age 18. If it's high, you may have to take it more often. Ask your doctor how often you should have yours taken.

Cholesterol

4/13

This is a type of fat in your blood. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke. You should get your cholesterol checked every 4-6 years if you're older than 20. Your doctor will likely recommend that you get it checked more often if you’re an older adult, male, overweight, or you have:

  • A family history of heart disease or high cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • A personal history of high cholesterol

Colorectal Cancer Screening

5/13

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 these tests when you turn 45. Some experts suggest that African American adults should start testing earlier5.

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) should happen yearly. A sigmoidoscopy, where your doctor checks part of your colon, should happen every 5 years. You should have a colonoscopy, where the doctor looks at your entire colon, every 3-10 years depending on what is found during your exam. 

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Blood Sugar Test

7/13

This is a way to check for diabetes or prediabetes. It's a simple test that measures the level of sugar (also called glucose) in your blood. You should start routine testing once you reach age 45. Your doctor may suggest having it done sooner if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Have high cholesterol or high blood pressure
  • Have had gestational diabetes

Skin Check

8/13

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 is smart to have your skin looked over regularly by a doctor.

Bone Density

9/13

As you age, your bones become thinner and weaker. Over time, that can lead to a condition called osteoporosis, which can make your bones very weak and easily broken. If you’re a woman who’s 65 or older or a man who’s 70 or older, you should have your bone density tested. If your doctor finds that your bones are getting weak, there are treatments available.

Your doctor may suggest that you have this test earlier if you:

  • Broke a bone in the past
  • Have taken steroids for a long time
  • Have rheumatoid arthritis
  • Weigh less than 127 pounds
  • Have a parent who has broken a hip after a minor injury

Mammogram

10/13

This X-ray test looks for changes in your breasts. Experts disagree on how often you need this test and when you should start. Talk to your doctor about it once you turn 40. They may tell you to wait until you’re 50, or they may have you get your first one right away. Once you start, some experts have you get one every year. Others say every 2 years. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

Cervical Cancer Screening

11/13

There are a couple of tests for this. A Pap test checks for changes in your cervix that could become cancer. Your doctor will use an instrument called a speculum to widen your vagina and take some cells to examine.

As creening for HPV will be done with the sample. It looks for a virus that can cause the cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. It can also be done in a doctor’s office. Talk to your doctor starting at about age 21 about what's best for you. You might get both tests or just one.

Prostate Exam

12/13

Experts differ on how often you should have this test that checks the prostate gland for signs of cancer. Most men will want to start talking with their doctor about it around age 50. African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer may want to start the talk between 40 and 45 years old. Most often, the test is a blood test called a PSA test. You may get a rectal exam instead. Your doctor will let you know what’s best for you.

Dental Checkup

13/13

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:

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," “High Blood Pressure.”

CDC: “How and When to Have Your Cholesterol Checked,” “What Should I Know About Screening.”

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."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Diabetes Tests and Diagnosis.”

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," "Screening for colorectal cancer: Strategies in patients at average risk,” “Patient education: Bone density testing (The Basics),” “Patient education: Breast cancer screening (The Basics),” “Patient education: Prostate cancer screening (PSA tests) (The Basics).”

WomensHealth.gov: "Pap test."