Staying on top of preventive care is essential for women (and men, too, of course!). Reasons not to skip preventive healthcare appointments include detecting issues early on, keeping your lifestyle goals on track, and more. But what exactly is included in a preventive care visit?
There are a few things you can expect during most, if not all, of your preventive healthcare appointments, depending on your age and health risks:
- Vital sign checks, including blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory
- Exam of the body to check for abnormalities
- Blood tests, including cholesterol, blood sugar, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), depending on your health situation
Let’s go over what’s included in a preventive care visit and tips for preparing for preventive healthcare appointments!
What is included in a preventive care visit?
A preventive care visit is often called a physical, in which a healthcare provider conducts various health screenings to look for problems. For women, there are also well-woman exams, which can occur at the same time as a physical or separately with a gynecologist. These exams will include varying tests depending on your age and health needs and risks.
Regardless of your age, you can expect the following during your physical exam, (although some of these screenings may not be necessary at every exam):
- Vital sign checks including blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory
- Exams where the doctor looks at, feels, or uses tools to check on various parts of the body for abnormalities
- A blood test sent to the lab for additional screenings, such as cholesterol, blood sugar, or TSH
Additional screenings can be incorporated as part of well-woman visits, depending on your age and health risks:
- It’s recommended that you receive STD testing annually between the ages of 13 and 21, if indicated by your provider.
- You may require STD testing between ages 21 and 65 based on your health history.
- It’s recommended that you receive an annual pelvic health exam to screen for various gynecologic cancers, diseases, and infections.
- It’s recommended that you receive a clinical breast exam every one to three years starting at age 20, and then annually starting at age 40.
- These exams are performed by your healthcare provider to screen for changes in the size, skin, shape, and symmetry of your breasts that could be signs of breast cancer.
- Women should begin receiving pap smears every three years beginning at age 21. You may need more frequent pap smears depending on your risk for cervical cancer and your prior pap smear results.
- From age 30 to 65, it’s recommended that women receive pap smears every five years depending on their risk and prior results.
- It’s recommended that women receive a mammogram every year beginning at age 40 to detect for breast cancer.
- It’s recommended that women receive a cholesterol test every five years, beginning at age 45, to detect their risk for cardiovascular disease.
Age 45+, or sooner for at-risk women
- For women over age 45, diabetes screening are recommended every three years, or as needed.
- If you have a higher risk of developing diabetes, you may need screenings more frequently or earlier than age 45.
Age 45+ for African American women, age 50+ for all other races
- It’s recommended that women receive a colonoscopy every 10 years, beginning at age 50 unless you are African American.
- African American women have a higher risk of colon cancer, and are advised to begin screenings at age 45.
During most preventive healthcare appointments, your doctor or provider will also review your health history, ask questions about your lifestyle, and give you a chance to ask questions too.
How to prepare for your appointment
You can make your visit go as smoothly as possible by being ready with information to answer some common questions. Leading up to your appointment, make a list of things such as:
- The date of your last period and how regular they’ve been lately
- Any current medications you’re taking
- Health concerns or symptoms you’ve been having
- How often you exercise
- If you’ve been sleeping well
Thinking about these things before you go means you won’t have to stop and think about them in the exam room. If the provider needs you to do any other preparation (like fasting for a blood test), the medical center will let you know beforehand.
Questions to ask during preventive healthcare appointments
An annual preventive visit is a great chance to ask any questions you have and get an individualized answer from a medical professional. You can ask questions such as:
- What are the best birth control options for me and my family planning goals?
- Is my weight healthy? Is this diet or exercise regimen safe for me?
- Should I get any additional tests based on my family or personal history?
- I’ve had this issue during sex, is this normal? Should I get STI testing?
- Is my period unusual? How can I manage menstrual pain or a heavy flow? What about this other type of discharge during the rest of my cycle?
No question is off the table. Healthcare professionals have heard (and seen) it all, and the only thing we care about is making sure every patient is safe, comfortable, and healthy.
When you might need a follow-up visit
You may need to schedule another appointment (with the same provider or another specialist) if you need additional testing. There can also be follow-up appointments to go over test results and plan treatment if necessary. Even if there is a red flag, the benefits of annual wellness exams are to find those flags early so you can manage your health and live life with confidence.
Call 920.885.6090 or contact Beaver Dam Women’s Health online today to schedule your annual preventive care appointment with our doctors and women’s health team.