When you’re twenty or thirty-something and feeling footloose and fancy-free, it’s easy to believe nothing will happen to you, especially, as it relates to your health. And since fun is trending at this age, health often takes a backseat to high risk behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, multiple sex partners and being awake long hours to do it all, most of which jeopardizes health. To add fuel to the fire, when you’re younger, there’s a tendency to ignore problems thinking they’ll go away on their own or not even be aware there is a problem.
“The real truth, no one expects potentially fatal diseases like cancer, diabetes and mental health issues––after all what does a twenty or thirty year old have to worry about?––to happen in their twenties and mid-thirties, but, they do,” Bernadette Anderson, M.D., M.P.H., family physician in Columbus, Ohio says.
But youth does not automatically guarantee a clean bill of health. “Tending to routine checkups can be the difference between aging gracefully or spending your later years in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices.” That’s why your twenties and thirties are the ideal times to practice prevention and guard against health problems—both genetic and environmental. Here’s a complete list of all of the health appointments you should be making for yourself each year—starting now.
See your family physician: once a year
Your primary physician is going to stay on top of more general health issues. This is a great time to catch up on immunizations, including a yearly flu vaccine and a tetanus vaccination or booster every ten years. This is also the visit where your doctor will measure your baseline vital signs, including blood pressure and weight and a calculation of body mass index, evaluate your blood work for specific health concerns such as high cholesterol, and review medical, surgical, family and social history including tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
See your dentist: twice a year
The frequency of dental and hygiene appointments should be prescribed on an individual basis after a risk assessment for dental caries, periodontal disease and oral cancer. However, in general we recommend that a dental examination should be carried out at least once a year, but ideally twice. and we recommend 1-2 hygienist appointments per year. “If a woman is pregnant, it’s especially important to stay on top of dental visits, as pregnancy gingivitis can develop due to the hormone changes that make the gums more prone to inflammation,” Sami Hassan, M.D., London-based dentist explains. “It can present with increased bleeding of the gums or swellings on the gums.” During pregnancy, regular hygiene appointments are recommended usually every three months to control and limit the inflammation of the gums.
See your dermatologist: once a year
In warmer months you may be more aware of the potential for skin cancer, but it’s an unfortunate risk that sticks with us year-round. Scheduling annual visits with your dermatologist for a skin check is your best defense at avoiding skin cancer, which affects an estimated 8,500 Americans every day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If you have a separate skin concern such as eczema, psoriasis or acne, make an appointment with your derm right away.
“Suddenly breaking out with inflamed and cystic acne on your lower face and jawline as an adult isn’t just a ‘revisit to your teens’—it might be a hormone imbalance or even a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,” Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., Beverly Hills-based dermatologist, says. “Topical acne meds can help, but your dermatologist can test your hormones and determine if you require a more specific oral prescription medication to prevent flares.”
See your optometrist: once a year
Ideally, you should have your vision examined once a year to stay on top of your eye health. While your family physician can do this for you, any further evaluation or treatment is required by an optometrist. Never stepped foot in an optometrist’s office? Lucky you. While you might have excellent vision now, chances are you’ll see a staggering drop in your late 20s to early 30s. If you already wear glasses or contact lenses, aim to visit your doc once every two to three years to keep your prescriptions up to date.
Ladies, see your OB/GYN: once a year or every three years
The importance of birth control and safe sex is a major topic for most 20-somethings, so annual well woman visits with your OB/GYN or healthcare provider are important, not only for your general physical health, but your mental wellbeing.
Sexually active women should be screened yearly or between new partners for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia and gonorrhea. Of course, if you’ve left your teens without an HPV vaccine, it’s now essential to remedy that. HIV testing needs to be done yearly as long as you remain sexually active with different partners (or your partner remains sexually active outside of your relationship).
While you no longer need to get a routine Pap smear every year (they’re now recommended every 3 to 5 years starting at age 21), it is vital to make sure your physician or OB/GYN examines your pelvic region and breast tissue. “A pelvic exam is checking the external genitals, vagina and cervix and feeling the uterus and ovaries for abnormalities,” Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, OB/GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, explains. “It sometimes also includes the swab of the cervix, which is the Pap smear, and some physicians use that visit to screen for any issues with STDs, period problems, pain, contraception and fertility issues.”
If you’ve had normal Pap smear screenings throughout your twenties (and continue to do so), then you can combine your Pap smear along with an HPV test every three years. Women under the age of thirty with a low risk strain of HPV will most likely have normal Pap smears in the future without any treatment. HPV in this age group tends to go away on its own, however, women aged 30-65 with a HPV of the high risk type are more likely to develop dysplasia or precancerous cells in following years even with a normal Pap smear. If you have a history of abnormal Pap smears, you’ll need screenings more often since HPV is the direct link to those abnormal smears and increases the risk of cervical cancer.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, it’s especially important to speak with your OB/GYN, as baseline mammograms can begin between the age of 35 and 40. “BRCA1 and BRCA2 are precarious genetic mutations for which you may be tested around this time, as certain family histories put you at risk for these particular mutations associated with early breast and ovarian cancers,” Sherry Ross, M.D., OB/GYN and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California explains. “If you test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, you might be a candidate for an elective bilateral mastectomy and prophylactic oophorectomy (the removal of healthy ovaries in women who have an elevated risk for ovarian cancer) once you are done having children or by the age of 35.”
The discussion of fertility and family planning often takes a front seat in one’s early 30s. If you are single and you’re not even thinking about future fertility, it may be time to have a conversation about egg freezing. You may have to be the one to start this conversation with your healthcare provider in order to make plans for a possible future family.