The “ANNUAL checkup” has been a much used phrase in literature and conversation, but is it necessary? How often should it be done? What should be done?
It is probably not necessary for everyone to have a full checkup every year, but they should be done regularly, and the older you are, the more frequently.
It is reasonable to have one thorough medical examination at about 30 years of age. If nothing abnormal is found, and you are otherwise in good health, no further check should be needed till you are 40. From then till 55 a five-yearly check would be advisable, and after the late 50s, they should gradually become more frequent until they become annual by 70.
Women need more frequent checkups than this for their smear tests. These should be done every 12 to 18 months from the early 20s until old age. Women should also check their breasts themselves every month, and report any abnormalities to their doctor immediately. Breast x-rays are sometimes recommended in older women.
The most important part of any check-up is what you tell the doctor
At the beginning of the consultation the doctor will ask 20 or 30 wide-ranging questions. The answers will lead to more detailed questions about some areas of your health, and will enable the correct tests and investigations (if any) to be ordered. One hopes your answers will not cause any concern to the doctor, and he or she will be able to make a physical examination of your throat, nose, ears, eyes, chest and abdomen.
Your smoking habits, weight, diet, alcohol intake and exercise levels will all be assessed, and appropriate advice will be given. A blood-pressure reading will be made. Control of high blood pressure, which may begin relatively early in life, will do more to reduce the incidence of heart disease than any other factor.
Most doctors routinely order a cholesterol and triglyceride blood test at the first check-up, but if this is satisfactory, it does not need to be repeated for some years. It is necessary to fast for 12 hours and go without alcohol for 72 hours before this test to reach an accurate reading.
Any suspicious spots or moles on your skin will be checked during the examination to ensure that they are not malignant.
Some doctors recommend feces testing for blood to detect early bowel problems, but the cost and inconvenience of this test related to its effectiveness is still a matter of controversy in medical circles.
Unless there are indications from the examination so far, it is not necessary for any further investigations to be performed. Routine chest x-rays are now frowned upon by the National Health and Medical Research Council, and a cardiograph is indicated only if there is a likelihood of heart disease.
More important than any routine check is early presentation to a doctor when any symptoms or changes to your body occur. Far too many patients leave it too long to see a doctor after they notice a swelling, change in bowel habits, unusual pain or other abnormality.
It is far better to be reassured today that you have no reason for concern than to be told after several weeks that you have left it too late for effective treatment.