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Regular physical exams are crucial for maintaining good health and managing existing conditions and diseases. But is a physical exam every year really necessary? The answer to this question varies between health care professionals and medical organizations. A doctor may advise an annual exam based on various factors, but few would argue that professional guidance in the pursuit of optimal health is invaluable.

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What Is a Physical Exam?

A physical exam is a visit to a qualified health care provider, at which a person's overall health and wellness are documented. The exam establishes the patient's baseline health and vitals such as height, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure. A blood sample can check cholesterol levels and disease markers.

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Who Performs the Physical Exam?

A physical exam is traditionally performed by a doctor in a medical office, though it is becoming more common for physician's assistants and nurse practitioners to carry out adult examinations. A person can also go to a community health clinic or urgent care center to receive a physical from a nurse or other qualified medical professional.

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Physical Exam Frequency

Many health care professionals advise visiting the doctor annually for a physical exam. Medical organizations, however, vary in frequency guidelines. How often a person should visit their doctor depends on several factors, including their age, health, medical history, family history, and risk factors. A doctor can provide advice on the ideal frequency for specific patients, based on these considerations.

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Who Should Receive an Annual Exam?

Certain populations are advised to receive a physical every year. This includes children, anyone over the age of 40, and people with existing health conditions or those taking prescribed medication. Anyone with a family history of a disease or those at higher risk of disease development should also visit their doctor annually.

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Physicals in Infancy and Childhood

Regular checkups are vital in infancy and childhood. A newborn will typically visit their doctor every two or three months until their first birthday. Annual physicals are generally deemed necessary up to the age of 21, to accurately and comprehensively document an adolescent's overall health record, track development, screen for vision or hearing issues, and maintain a vaccination schedule.

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Establishing a Health Baseline

Annual or regular physicals are important for establishing a baseline and providing the doctor with a foundation to build upon, should future health concerns arise. These baselines include heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, white blood cell count, and overall health and ability. Should symptoms of an illness appear, the doctor can compare past vitals to current vitals to detect abnormalities or disease markers.

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Vaccinations

An annual or regular physical allows a person to keep up with vaccinations according to the schedule established by the Centers for Disease Control. This is particularly true for childhood and adolescent vaccinations, including hepatitis B, measles, varicella, and polio. Regular maintenance vaccines are also strongly recommended in adulthood, including a yearly flu shot and a ten-year tetanus booster.

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Medication Management

Annual exams are a necessity if a person is taking a prescribed medication for a known disease. Regular blood tests monitor the state or progression of the condition and its effect on the body. This allows doctors to ensure they have prescribed the right dosage or adjust the amount, if necessary.

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Patient-Doctor Relationship

The development of the patient-doctor relationship is a significant reason for visiting a doctor on an annual or regular basis. This relationship helps established a patient's confidence in and comfort with their doctor and allows the doctor to better understand the patient's health preferences and needs. Developing this camaraderie encourages candid discussion of lifestyle, symptoms, and personal matters, which increases the likelihood of receiving accurate treatment promptly when issues do arise.

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Health Screenings

Health screenings are vital in maintaining optimal health, identifying and treating disease risks, and early disease diagnosis. A person found to be at higher risk for the development of a disease, due to family history or lifestyle, should be screened annually or as often as their doctor advises. Health screenings are most commonly used to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar levels. Family history and age might also make an individual eligible for cancer screenings, particularly for prostate cancer and breast cancer.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.