5 annual doctors appointments every woman should make now, rather than later
If you’re one of the lucky few who are young, healthy, and able-bodied, you may not believe you should schedule an annual doctors appointment. But while doctors are there to help you feel better, they’re not always readily available to chase down immediate health problems. Ideally, their job is to prevent sickness and conditions that could turn into problems later.
“It’s important to take a proactive approach to your health, says Dr. Nina He family physician at the Copeman Healthcare Centre in Vancouver. “Keeping yourself healthy is much easier than reversing the long-term effects of disease, and it's also a boost to your overall quality of life.
You know how you’ve been putting off that dentist appointment because you’ve been super busy because it just doesn’t seem that important? (Guilty). Well, it is.
We know, everyone gets busy and life and work gets in the way (not to mention, what used to be a free excuse to leave school early has now turned into an annoying obligation to schedule in between our real-life jobs), but it’s important to start the year off right by mapping out these appointments in your calendar. Sometimes, picking up the phone is the hardest part.
Give yourself and your body the self-care it needs with these five annual doctors appointments you should make right now, according to experts.
Oh, and it should go without saying, but once you make these appointments, stick to them. Locking these visits down and actually showing up (not rescheduling!) is the only way you’ll know what’s up with your body, in all stages of life.
Doctors appointments you need to make:
While it can be tempting to rush to the closest urgent care every time you’re not feeling quite right, there’s a huge benefit to having a family doctor or primary care practitioner who knows you and your medical history. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends that every woman schedule an annual “well-woman” appointment with her primary care practitioner (PCP). This is your point person for general health concerns, and they can give you direction on any additional specialists you may need to visit based on your needs, so if you have to make any doctors appointment this year, this is a great place to start.
“Every patient is variable, so there are no hard or fast rules as to how often you should be checking in with your doctor,” explains Dr. He. But in general, she says, “Young, healthy females between the ages of 20 and 34 are recommended to follow up with their family doctor [at least] once a year to review good dietary practices, and ensure adequate exercise, sleep, and stress management.”
Typically, these appointments will simply involve your doctor checking your vitals, including your heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight to make sure everything looks good and normal. Also, feel free to use this time to talk about any missing or additional vaccines you might need for your upcoming trip. During these appointments, your PCP can assist in creating health goals with you, which your doctor will check on at the next annual appointment. These examinations are usually quick and painless, and almost always covered by insurance.
Any good oral hygienist will tell you that brushing your teeth two times a day just isn’t enough. You need regular cleanings from the dentist to really keep your teeth and gums healthy, which means, sorry, you’re going to have to sit in the chair for an hour and get it done by a pro.
“You should see your dentist for a professional cleaning minimum two times a year if you have healthy gums,” says Dr. Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist to the stars like Ashley Graham. “However, if you tend to have gum issues or build-up plaque more readily, you should be going every three to four months.” According to the American Dental Association (ADA), these appointments will include both an exam of your oral health to check for cavities, gum disease, and any other red flags, as well as a thorough cleaning, of course.
“Dental decay (cavities) aren’t always symptomatic, explains Jablow. “By getting check-up X-rays, the dentist can find decay at early stages which you may be able to reverse with a change in home care, special toothpaste, and an alkaline diet.
But regular trips to the dentist go beyond just checking for pesky cavities.
Jablow tells us that the plaque that hardens on our teeth and below the gum line can calcify and only professional instruments can remove it. She says that not going to the dentist to regularly remove it can cause a chronic cycle of inflammation which can affect the health of your entire body—yikes.
Before you chicken out on your next oral exam, take a deep breath. Lots of people get anxious about going to the dentist. Jablow is pretty used to this and says that even if you’re nervous, you should still pick up the phone and call the front desk.
“Let them know you're anxious [and] ask what they [can] offer to help. There can be nitrous gas, headphones to block out the noise, etc. If they don’t make you feel heard about your anxiety, she says, “Find another office.
Dermatologists are not just for people with acne, rosacea, or other noticeable skin concerns. Even if you have a crystal clear skin, it’s a good idea to go in for a skin check, especially since an estimated one in five Americans develops skin cancer throughout their lifetime, according to the Skin Care Foundation.
“You should still see a dermatologist even if you don’t have any personal skin concerns, because catching skin cancer early is key and it is best to check once per year to make sure everything is okay, says Dr. Ellen Marmur, an NYC-based dermatologist. “Also, once you have a dermatologist, you can always be seen faster for an urgent matter, she says.
Like sitting out in the sun? Then there’s even more of a reason to see your derm for a yearly checkup. Mamur says if you’ve been sunburned or gone to a tanning salon—even just once—you’re at greater risk for developing skin cancer, so it’s even more necessary to find a good dermatologist you trust. That way, they can check your skin for spots on a regular basis and help support healthier sun protection behaviors like always wearing sunscreen.
If you’re nervous, Mamur says to start small. “My best advice for women who are scared to make these appointments is to make an appointment that doesn’t scare you,” she says. “For example, see a dermatologist for just one spot or just your face and arms first. Then, when you are more comfortable, have a full skin check. Dermatologists are very compassionate and will try to reassure you!”
“No matter what her age, every woman should absolutely see her gynecologist annually for routine screening,” explains Dr. Taraneh Nazem, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. After you turn 21, they should become a regular part of your annual doctors appointments, just to make sure everything is okay down there.
At this visit, you can expect to have a breast exam and a pelvic exam. Your doctor will check for any lumps or abnormalities in your breasts and examine your reproductive organs both internally and externally, but the entire process lasts about 10 minutes and is fairly painless.
And according to Planned Parenthood, “If you think you might have an STD, another kind of infection (like a yeast infection), or any other issue with your reproductive health, let your doctor or nurse know at the beginning of your appointment. They’ll talk with you and decide if they need to do any special tests or exams.”
Nazem says this is also a great opportunity to discuss reproductive planning (forms of birth control) or whether a visit to a fertility specialist is warranted.
Though this may already be a part of your gynecologist appointment or general well-woman pelvic exam, a Pap smear is another necessary appointment to make.
Nazem says that a cervical cancer screening with a Pap smear is necessary every three to five years depending on your age and past history. During this appointment, your gynecologist will gently swab the inside of your cervix to collect a small cell sample, which they will test for abnormalities. It’s important for women because the test can find cell changes caused by HPV, as well as detect early signs of cervical cancer. If you’ve went for your annual pelvic exam, but haven’t gotten a Pap test in a few years, this may be another one to add to your list.
At the end of the day, these appointments aren’t meant to be another annoying obligation to add to your already busy calendar. They’re also not meant to be scary, or to psych us out of making them. Instead, these visits are aimed at preventing the development of diseases and other problems that could turn into bigger deals down the line.
They’re an empowering way for us to be able to take our health into our hands and be informed about what the heck is going on with out bodies. Sure, they may require taking a sick day or leaving work early to squeeze them in. But we assure you, they’re worth it. Your body will thank you.