iPad with health tests

Heath L.*, Northwest University, Washington

I highly recommend all teens and young adults get annual checkups up to age 21. Not only do you get a chance to learn about health issues that could affect you later, but it’s also a great time to build a relationship with your doctor in case you get sick. Checkups are especially important if you’re 18 or younger, but really, every age benefits.

What happens at a checkup?

While you get to know your health care provider, they will also get to know you by reviewing any medical records you bring with you (which you should do if it’s your first visit). To get a hold of your past medical records, just call or email your last provider and ask them to be sent to your new one. You may need to fill out a release form. Once your medical, social, and family history are reviewed, your provider will determine whether you’re at higher risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, and will provide you with more information if necessary.

You’ll also have a physical exam where the provider will check your eyes, ears, nose, and throat; listen to your heart and lungs; and check your abdomen for any abnormalities. Finally, you’ll have the option to get blood tests to look at things like your cholesterol and blood sugar.*

*Before having blood tests done, make sure you contact your insurance to find out if they’re covered or ask how much you’d have to pay if they aren’t. If you’re low risk and the blood tests aren’t covered by your insurance, talk to your provider about whether it’s OK for you to skip them this time.

What about a routine screening?

Guy talking to doctor

Routine screenings, or testing for diseases and conditions, depend on who you are and your background. There are some tests everyone should have, such as regular weight and blood pressure checks. Women also need a cervical cancer screen (Pap smear) after age 21 every three years.

Also, safety and prevention are important. Accidents are a leading cause of death in younger adults and teens. Providers may ask you about seat belts; guns in the home (which should be kept locked up); and use of alcohol, any drugs, and tobacco. They’ll also ask about intimate partner violence and depression.

Routine tests for college students include STI (sexually transmitted infections) testing for chlamydia and other infections. Learn more about STI prevention and testing. This is also a great time to talk to your provider about condoms and birth control options.

And vaccines?

Bring your vaccine records in for your health care provider to review, and talk to them if you have questions. They’ll be able to update routine vaccines such as Tdap (tetanus) and catch up on any vaccines you missed. Were you able to get your three Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines? These prevent common strains of the virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts, and may also be effective against some oral and anal cancers. Meningitis vaccines should also be discussed and given.

Learn more about which vaccines you need.

Is there anything more I should know about you?

Lastly, you’ll discuss your lifestyle habits (such as nutrition, exercise, and safe sex practices) and cover any unanswered questions. Do you have a medical condition that needs daily medications or other monitoring? Do you see a specialist doctor whom you haven’t seen in a while? In these cases, work with your doctor for special screenings and care.

In short: Yes, I recommend you get a checkup! It’s a great opportunity to explore your personal health and plan for a healthy future.

*Name changed