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Research proves that having a primary care provider is critical to preventing illness and catching disease early when it is more easily treated, which leads to a longer lifespan. In addition to managing daily health needs, we also teach our patients how to stay physically and mentally healthy, answer questions about everyday medical concerns, and serve as your partner in managing any hereditary health risks.
Having a primary care provider (PCP) you trust to care for you when you're sick is important, but it’s also critical that you regularly visit your PCP even when you’re healthy. For many, regular physicals can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and keep illness at bay now and long-term. In fact, there are benefits to regular check-ups with your PCP at every stage of life, regardless of your age, gender, or health.
It’s important to get regular physicals at every stage of life, regardless of your age, gender, or health. Dr. Gillian Adams shares why on the #MedStarHealthBlog: https://bit.ly/3A6ZbgF.Click to Tweet
Importance of regular primary care in every decade of life.
Birth and infancy: Establishing good health from the beginning.
Primary care begins for your baby at birth. In the first few months of life, your PCP can be a great partner in helping you to understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to baby’s growth and health. Well-baby visits are routinely scheduled at several intervals throughout the first year or two of life, with more frequent appointments shortly after birth. Frequent visits ensure baby is growing within the “normal” range and getting a healthy start to life.
During regular check-ups, your primary care provider will:
- Track your baby’s height and weight
- Answer questions and help gain confidence in their parenting skills
- Provide education on safety, feeding, sleep, and other important elements of care
- Give lifesaving immunizations
- Help identify any early signs of health concerns, such as vision, speech, or hearing challenges
- Screen and monitor any hereditary medical conditions
Childhood: Monitoring physical, mental, and social milestones.
As babies become toddlers and school-aged children, well-child visits or physicals are typically scheduled annually. During these appointments, your child’s provider will ask questions about their developmental milestones—the things children are expected to do at certain ages. You can also expect your child’s doctor to:
- Conduct a thorough physical exam
- Review your child’s family medical history and any relevant health risks
- Ask questions about school and any learning challenges, like ADHD
- Provide advice on nutrition and sleep
- Administer immunizations for tetanus, measles, whooping cough, and other illnesses
- Discuss any behavioral or social concerns
- Emphasize safety (e.g., wearing a helmet while riding bike or appropriate protective gear for sports)
These visits are also important for helping your child to feel comfortable and safe at the doctor. As your child enters double-digits, many PCPs begin to offer kids the option for a private conversation in case they have questions about their health or body that they’re not comfortable asking in front of parents.
Teen years and early 20s: Forming healthy self-care habits.
Annual physicals during the teen years are aimed to help your child develop healthy habits, like eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. These visits are also important for discussing stress, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. For teenagers who are sexually active, you can expect your child’s PCP to ask them questions about their sexual history and potentially screen for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like HIV or Hepatitis C. This will continue through the age of 25.
During puberty, your teenager is going through a lot of changes. Their body is changing, so it’s helpful to have another adult encourage them in self-hygiene, like wearing deodorant and showering regularly. They’re also confronted with more opportunities for risky behavior, like smoking and alcohol or drug use. Regular conversations with a healthcare provider they trust can help provide a safe place for them to gather information, ask questions, and be equipped to resist dangerous habits.
Around 18, most teenagers are ready to take responsibility for identifying health problems. Depending on your health, your doctor may recommend regular physicals every one to three years. Preventative care that begins at the age of 21 includes a pap smear test, which is a screening test that can prevent cervical cancer or help catch it early when it is more easily treated. Men should also be aware of any changes in their body and notify their doctor if they have questions or concerns.
22 through 40: Preventing illness with lifestyle modifications.
In your 20s and 30s, regularly-scheduled physicals can help you stay on track with healthy habits that can ward off disease and live a longer life. During these visits, you can expect your provider to:
- Examine your risk factors for certain cancers and other illnesses
- Regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Help you manage stress, depression, or anxiety
- Review your body mass index (BMI) and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Recommend nutritional guidelines that can help to prevent chronic conditions, like diabetes
- Make healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting tobacco use or lowering your alcohol consumption
40s and 50s: Catching signs of disease early.
Your PCP will continue to monitor many of the things they did in your 30s as you enter into your 40s and 50s. They’ll also examine your family history and any hereditary predispositions for developing heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses. Your risk level will determine what tests your doctor uses to monitor certain health conditions. For example, if you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may choose to perform a baseline electrocardiogram (EKG), which can identify any irregularities, or blockages in the heart. Heart attack and stroke are the leading killers in the United States, which is why prevention is so important.
These years are also critical for beginning cancer screenings, which can help detect early signs of cancer when there are more treatment options. For example, 40 is the starting year that women with an average risk of breast cancer should begin getting mammograms. (For some people who have a high risk of developing certain cancers, these screenings may begin earlier than 40.) Likewise, colon cancer screenings should begin around age 45 for people with an average risk. In addition, men should discuss their risk of prostate cancer to determine if they may benefit from a PSA test.
60s and beyond: Staying healthy and finding fulfillment after retirement.
As you age, your PCP will continue to emphasize healthy lifestyle choices and illness prevention. We recommend that women get bone density scans starting at age 65, which can help predict the risk of bone fracture. Chronic conditions, like arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure, may require intervention or treatment, and your PCP can also provide lifestyle counseling to reverse some of the effects of diet-related disease.
Many cancer screenings continue through these years, and your doctor may also perform an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening to check for any bulging or swelling in the artery (aorta) that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
In these decades, your healthcare provider will continue to monitor any changes in your vision or hearing, as well as discuss your dental needs. They’ll also discuss strategies for preventing falls as well as maintaining your autonomy and independence as you age so you can participate in your life to the fullest. It may be harder to get around as we age, but don’t let shame or embarrassment of mobility limitations prevent you from engaging in your community and the things you enjoy.
Perhaps one of the most important things your PCP can do is encourage you to do what you love until you can’t do it anymore—and then find a new passion, hobby, or interest to love.