Health check-ups: what you need to know
Most Canadians are used to visiting a doctor at least once a year for an annual check-up. Turns out annual physicals for healthy adults don’t make a lot of sense; in fact, they might even do more harm than good. Recent research has found that people who get full physicals are more likely to undergo more health tests but aren’t any less likely to die from serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease, or from other conditions either.
While many adults don’t need to see a doctor every year if they’re feeling well, it doesn’t mean they can go for years without visiting one. And once adults reach 40, 50 and 65, there are certain screening tests they should begin doing.
The recommendations below are for healthy adults. If you have risk factors or a chronic disease, you may need different tests or you may need a test more often. Ask your health care provider what schedule is right for you, but here are conditions most people should be screened for:
BLOOD PRESSURE: The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends all adults have their blood pressure checked at least once a year, although the test can be performed at a pharmacy. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, many pharmacies have stopped providing this service. If high blood pressure runs in your family or you have relevant risk factors and need monitoring, buying your own blood pressure monitor is a good option.
CHOLESTEROL: The need for cholesterol testing depends on your family history and risk factors for heart disease, says the College of Family Physicians of Canada. With no risk factors, routine cholesterol screening through bloodwork usually begins at age 40 for men and 50 for women.
DIABETES: Diabetes Canada says that men and women over the age 40 should be screened for diabetes using a fasting blood glucose test every three years. Those with relevant risk factors for diabetes may need earlier testing or more frequent testing.
CERVICAL CANCER: The Ontario Cervical Screening Program recommends that women who are or have been sexually active have a Pap test every 3 years starting at age 21. Regular screening should continue until at least age 70 or when advised by a doctor or nurse practitioner to stop. Pap tests can stop at the age of 70 if a woman has had 3 or more normal tests in the previous 10 years.
COLON CANCER: Adults over 50 should do a colorectal screening test (called the FIT) every two years. The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is a safe and painless test that checks your stool for tiny amounts of blood, which can be caused by colorectal cancer or some pre-cancerous polyps.
MAMMOGRAM: The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that if you are a woman, 40 to 49 years old, you should talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer, along with the benefits and limitations of having a mammogram. If you are 50 to 74 years old, have a mammogram every 2 years.
PROSTATE CANCER: The Canadian Cancer Society recommends most men should consider getting a PSA test through bloodwork starting at age 50. Men at higher risk (if they are of African origin or have a family history) should consider testing starting at age 45.
OSTEOPOROSIS: Osteoporosis Canada says all women and men over the age of 65 years should get a bone mineral density or BMD test. Some adults under 65 may need the test earlier if they are high risk.
The above listed tests are routine screening tests and are highly recommended. When you do see your health care provider, it is also important to discuss any emotional problems you might have. If you feel sad, extremely tired all the time or lack energy, tell your doctor. Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health.
Hope this month’s blog is informative. If you have any questions, we at in4MED can help by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Choosing Wisely Canada - Health check-ups https://choosingwiselycanada.org/health-check-ups/
College of Family Physicians of Canada - Simplified lipid guidelines https://www.cfp.ca/content/61/10/857.full?sid=1267d924-f08a-4963-a732-0d6d06bc66f0
Diabetes Canada - Screening for diabetes in adults http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/Browse/Chapter4
Cancer Care Ontario - Cervical screening https://www.cancercareontario.ca/en/types-of-cancer/cervical/screening
Canadian Cancer Society - Screening for breast cancer https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/breast/screening/?region=on
Canadian Cancer Society - PSA testing recommendations https://www.prostatecancer.ca/Supporting-You/HealthProfessionals/Recommendations-and-Guidelines
Osteoporosis Canada - Why should I get tested https://osteoporosis.ca/about-the-disease/diagnosis/why-should-i-get-tested/
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.