Annual Physical Exam

During an annual physical exam, your primary care physician assesses your overall health by reviewing any on-going or previous medical issues, and screens to identify or prevent new medical problems. Physical exams vary by your age, health, family history and how you live (e.g., whether you smoke, what you eat, how active you are).

Even if you feel fine, you should still see your health care provider for regular checkups. These visits can help you avoid problems in the future. For example, the only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly. High blood sugar and high cholesterol levels also may not have any symptoms in the early stages. A simple blood test can check for these conditions.

All adults should visit their primary care provider from time to time, even if they are healthy. The purpose of these visits is to:

  • Screen for diseases
  • Assess risk of future medical problems
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle
  • Update vaccinations
  • Maintain a relationship with a provider in case of an illness

Almost every physical exam will include:

  • A measurement of your height and weight
  • Screening for alcohol and tobacco use
  • Screening for depression
  • Vaccinations, if you need them

Annual Physical Exam Tests

Physical exams may include the following tests:

For everyone:

  • Blood pressure screening
  • Cholesterol screening
  • Colon cancer screening — especially for people ages 50–75
  • Diabetes screening
  • Hearing test
  • Osteoporosis screening – especially for women and some men over age 65
  • Infectious disease screening
  • Skin cancer screening

For women only:

  • Breast exam — Every 3 years for women ages 20–39, and every year for women 40–64
  • Mammogram — Every 1–2 years for women over age 40
  • Pelvic exam and pap smear

For men only:

  • Prostate cancer screening discussion

Annual Physical Exam Schedule

While “annual” implies you should do it once a year, the National Institutes of Health suggests these minimum guidelines:

Gender / Age

Frequency of Physical Exams

Women, age 18 – 39

Twice in your 20’s

Women, age 40 – 64

Every 1 to 5 years

Women, age 65 and older

Every year

Men, age 18 – 49

Every 2 years

Men, age 50 and older

Every year