I’m approaching a “milestone” birthday. What health checks should I do at my age?


Have you had a health check for a long time or never?

You’re not alone. Most people wait until they’re sick to see a family doctor, so there’s usually not much time to talk about preventative care as well.

So should you book a check-up with your GP just to talk about what you can do to stay healthy? And if so, what should one discuss?

It depends on your life stage.

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One of the most important considerations your doctor will make will be your age. (Getty)

Doctors will not examine you for everything

It may surprise you, there is no proof that a “general health check” leads to better health outcomes.

Having some screening tests in low-risk and otherwise healthy patients showed no benefit, including some blood tests and imaging tests, such as full-body CT scans or MRIs, to screen for cancer.

Aside from being a waste of your time and money, there’s another problem with generic screening: it can cause it overdiagnosis, leading to additional tests, appointments, anxiety, medication, and even surgery. Ironically, this can result in you being less healthy.

For this reason, doctors do not “examine you for everything”, but are guided by what would benefit you personally based on your individual history and which tests have been shown to outweigh the benefits and harm.

One of the most important considerations your doctor will make will be your age.

Young adults (20-30 years)

The main evidence-based screening test for young adults is the cervical screening test for women. This is a cervical swab taken every five years to look for the human papillomavirus (HPV) and precancerous cells.

When young women come in for their cervical swab, several other important preventative conversations are often taking place, including birth control or planning.

Because young men do not require an equivalent screening test, they often miss opportunities to talk about prevention.

People running exercise couple beach jog
Fit and healthy young adults should consider speaking to their primary care physician about what they can do to prevent chronic disease down the road. (Getty)

Both men and women in this age group should find a GP they are comfortable with when discussing STI (sexually transmitted infections) screening, skin cancer, mental problems and intimate partner violence.

Even otherwise fit and healthy young adults should consider talking to their GP about what they can do to prevent chronic disease over time. Health behaviors such as diet, sleep, smoking and level of physical activity in young adulthood increase or decrease the risk the development of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer over time.

After all, regular check-ups by dentists and opticians can identify problems at an early stage.

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40-50 year olds

Despite the saying “Life begins at 40,” this is the age when many of the things that can cause an early death are worth investigating.

Actual evidence shows Benefits in assessing your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and skin cancer.

If you are at higher risk for certain types of cancer (such as breast or colon cancer), screening for them may also start at this age.

It’s also not too late to improve your longevity through some lifestyle changes, so it’s important to discuss things like losing weight, quitting smoking, and improving your exercise.

As with young adults, women should continue to have a cervical swab every five years.

And everyone should consider getting checked out by a dentist and optometrist.

Mental health can also deteriorate at this age as the pressures of child care, aging parents and demanding careers can increase. The input of a psychologist can be helpful.

Medicare subsidy for blood pressure monitors
Current evidence shows benefits in assessing your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and skin cancer. (iStock)

50-65 year olds

Patients often comment on the 50th birthday present they find in the mail: a stool sample collection kit for colorectal cancer screening. It may not be the highlight of your 50s, but it is effectively save lives through early detection of this cancer, with check-ups being recommended every two years.

Women are also invited to start mammograms Breast cancer screening every two years (unless they started in their 40s, depending on their individual risk).

The third health issue to start screening for in your 50s is osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become brittle and increases the risk of fracture. Osteoporosis is painless and is therefore often discovered too late. You can check your risk for this at home using an online calculator, e.g This one here from the Garvan Institute.

Oral health and eye exams also remain important in this age group.

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Over 65

Several vaccinations are Recommended for ages 65+, including shingles and influenza, when your immunity decreases and your risk of serious illness increases.

Other preventive checks include those for your vision, dental health, hearing and risk of falling. This often involves allied healthcare providers who can examine, monitor, and treat you as needed.

Some of your other regular screenings stop in your mid-70s, including colon, cervical, and breast cancer.

From the age of 65 several vaccinations are recommended. (Getty)

First Nations people

The above age-based recommendations apply to people with standard risk factors. First Nations Australians are at higher risk of developing a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and certain types of cancer.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander may be offered more thorough screening, according to another timeline, with some checks in earlier times.

While annual generic “health checks” aren’t recommended, talking to your GP will help you determine your specific health risks and screening needs.

Prevention is better than cure, so make sure you access evidence-based screening and prevention strategies that are right for you.

Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor, General Medicine, Bond University.

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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