What regular health check-ups should I be getting — and why?

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One of the first things I did when I moved to Oxford was register with a local GP, dentist and optician and immediately schedule in all my regular health check-ups.

Oh wait. No.

One of the last things I did when I moved to Oxford was register with a local GP. It took me moving house twice before I registered with a dentist and I still haven’t registered with a local optician.

What health checks should I be getting (and why)?

It’s funny isn’t it – we spend so much time worrying about exercising, eating healthy food and worrying about the impact of things like pesticides on our health, and yet don’t do some basic preventative health check-ups. We take our cats and dogs to the the vets for their annual check-ups, but we don’t manage our own annual check-ups.

The reason we put them off, of course, is that signing up to local health service provider is complicated, and annual health check-ups can be stressful. Most of us have bad memories of the dentist, and few of us like to be told we are not flossing enough (pro-tip: you are probably not flossing enough).

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I should probably make one thing clear. I am writing this from Oxford in the UK. We have a health service that is massively less expensive for the end user than the health care system in, say, the USA. There is unlikely to be a huge financial barrier to getting yourself checked out.

With that said, getting health check-ups should be on your priority list. No, it doesn’t nudge out, say getting food or paying rent. But it should be something you get if you ever have some spare cash, because preventative medical care is always less expensive than crisis medical care.

Why should I get regular health check-ups?

You get your car serviced annually, right?

Your body is infinitely more complicated. There are many more things that can start to go wrong and which can be fixed before they become a big problem.

For example, let’s take the cervical smear test. It’s uncomfortable. It’s invasive. And most of the time it shows you that you are perfectly healthy. But sometimes it leads to someone spotting abnormal cells that could become cancerous, and sometimes that means those abnormal cells need to be removed before they become cancerous.

And cervical cancer is a hell of a lot more uncomfortable and invasive than a smear test.

The same goes for dental check-ups. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes painful. And most of the time they tell you to brush better, or floss more often. But sometimes you have a plaque or tartar build-up. Sometimes that needs to be cleaned up by a professional. If it’s left, the tartar contributes to the formation of a cavity, which, in turn, can grow and cause toothache and eventually lead to, say, losing a tooth.

What regular health check-ups should I be getting?

So we know we should be getting regular health check-ups… but how many? What kinds? And when? Sadly, the answer is ‘it depends’, but I’ve outlined the most common ones below.

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Eye-tests

Children should get eye-checks every year. If you have diabetes, this should continue indefinitely. People with diabetes are more at risk of eye conditions like glaucoma and cataracts, which can result in vision loss but which can be prevented if caught early. People with diabetes are also at risk for diabetic retinopathy.

For everyone: an eye-test every two years from age 16, and every year from age 65. This is because eye-tests pick up conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes at a very early stage. As you get older, your risk of conditions like glaucoma and cataracts also rises.

An eye-chart, seen through a pair of glasses.

STI tests

If you are sexually active you should be getting STI checks once a year.

If you regularly engage in unprotected or high-risk sex, get an STI check every 3-6 months.

You have the same risk of contracting an STI if you are in a monogamous relationship as you are in an open relationship. You shouldn’t stop getting checked after agreeing to be sexually exclusive with somebody!

General health check-ups

For people taking the oral contraceptive pill you should get an annual check-up that includes blood pressure. This is normally a condition of getting a refill of the pill.

If you have any underlying health condition your GP will advise you of how often you should get a check-up.

If you are over 40, you can get an NHS Health Check every five years.

Doctor measuring blood pressure - studio shot on white background

Dental check-ups

It will vary from three months to every two years. If you haven’t had a dental check-up in more than two years, it’s time to book one! A dentist will look for any possible upcoming problems, and may recommend treatment or cleaning. They will also advise you about when you should get your next check-up.

Screenings

For people with a cervix: a cervical screening from age 25, repeated every three years.

For people with breasts: a breast screening from age 50, repeated every three years.

For everyone: bowel cancer screening from age 60, repeated every two years.

For people at risk of AAA (mainly men): AAA screening at age 65.

Vaccinations

There are a wide range of vaccinations you should receive up to age 14. See a full list of vaccinations at the NHS website.

You should check what vaccinations you need before travelling overseas. Different countries will have different requirements.

At age 65 you should start getting the flu vaccine every year.

At age 70 you should get the shingles vaccine.

There are also a number of groups that require additional vaccinations. Again, check the NHS site linked above.

Woman getting a vaccination.

Time to take action!

Having written this blog post, I think it’s only right that I pull my finger out and get registered with an optician. And I hope you book yourself in with the optician, dentist or GP as well, if you’ve realised you’re behind on your check-ups!

What regular health checks should I be getting? And why?

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4 comments

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  • Fun facts! In some places in England there is a new bowel cancer screening program being trialed. Everyone over the age of 55 is offered a flexi sigmoidoscopy. This is where you take an enema to help clear out the last part of your bowel, and a flexible camera is put into the rectum and left side of the colon. The idea is to spot any polyps that might become cancerous at a later date, and remove them. It’s getting really good results, and is preventing cancer! It’s likely it will be rolled out to the rest of the country.

    😉

    • Yes, I am definitely writing from the perspective of the UK, which is tax supported and therefore very cheap to the end-user (and free if you are not in employment etc.)

      I’d be happy to try and publish something on the blog about options for affordable health care in the USA, but I would have to find someone else to write it. 🙁

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