How Often Should You Go To The Doctor?

by JR Thorpe
emreogan/E+/Getty Images

Though most of us grow up with the idea of "semi-annual check-ups" pounded into our heads, we're often not clear on how often we actually have to see the doctor. Once a year? Whenever we feel like we could use a tune-up? Every time Beyonce puts out a new album? Well, let's get one thing clear: you should absolutely go see a medical professional when something's wrong with your body. If your tooth falls out, go to the dentist; if you have unexpected pelvic pain, high-tail it to your gynecologist. (No, you cannot just "tough it out".) But what we're discussing here is the best schedule for regular visits, and how often you should see the health professionals in your life as they monitor various bits of your health, from your blood pressure to your mental stability. You may be surprised to learn that some health professionals actually don't want to see you knocking on their door every six months wanting a check-up; in a few cases, annual visits, or even more infrequent ones, are the norm, while in others you're expected to turn up weekly and no complaints. (OK, a few complaints.)

If you don't have a regular GP or person who helps you maintain your sexual health, now is the time to register with one. Depending on the state of your insurance and financial health, as well as other factors like accessibility issues, regular visits may not be possible; but it's good to be on their books so that, if something happens, they know who you are. If you're not registered, have copies of your medical records so that you know what vaccinations you've had and what past problems you've encountered, just in case.

In an ideal world, this is how often you should access your health services, from general practitioners to gynecologists and therapists. Always ask the opinion of the professional treating you about a good frequency for visits, though, because you're an individual with specific issues. Ain't nothing cookie-cutter about you.

Your Dentist

The basic rule of thumb about "going to the dentist twice a year" is actually, as Colgate's Oral Health Center points out, a pretty old piece of advice: it dates back to World War II, when military records indicated that recruits had relatively poor dental hygiene. Since then, the state of dental technology has improved, but the standard "every six months" rule does seem to hold true, particularly if you have regular teeth-cleaning with a dental hygienist.

However, the frequency of your visits will likely be determined by the health of your teeth. A yearly visit is often best for healthy adults; once every two years is right for some adults who are very low-risk for cavities or difficulties (only your dentist can make this specific call — sorry). But those with orthodontic problems, immunodeficiency disorders, and gum disease or sensitivities, as well as folks who smoke or use smokeless tobacco, may be asked to adhere to a more frequent schedule. Essentially, if you haven't gone for 12 months, it's high time to look in for a check-up, and the state of your mouth will determine how soon after that you need to be seen.

Your Primary Care Physician

How often you see your general practitioner — the doctor who looks at general problems instead of specifics — is highly dependent on a lot of factors, from your insurance plan to your specific personal disease risks to your age. Once you hit 40, you'll be expected to go to your doctor for a general check-up, including weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure, once a year. It's also recommended that anybody with a genetic predisposition to any disease, or a history of serious illness, goes frequently (if you are currently being treated for a serious disease or disorder, stick with whatever schedule you've worked out with your doctor — every situation is different).

But if you're young, not at risk, and generally healthy, it's actually not seen as particularly beneficial to adhere to a strict regular check-up regime.

No, really. Shape Magazine reported that a collection of Danish studies involving 182,880 people showed that a regular check-up actually didn't do anything to mortality rates, even those for cancer or heart difficulties. According to their recommendations, you should get your weight, blood pressure and skin tested every year, and everything else needs to be case-specific. You need to visit whenever you need a vaccination booster, for example.

Your Gynecologist

A gynecologist should be a part of your life (the American College of Obstetricians And Gynecologists recommends that girls start seeing one at the age of 13-15, or whenever they start menstruating), but how often you see them is a highly individual question. There are certain tests that you need to get done every few years, though whether they're done by your GP or your gynecologist depends on the specifics of their individual practice and your wishes. Pap smears should start at age 21 and be done every three years, unless a specific result indicates that they should be done more frequently or investigated ( and if you get an abnormal result, don't panic! Be sure to read up on what the results mean, as it's very unlikely to be full-blown cancer).

Gynecologists may also perform mammograms; they're usually recommended every three years once you hit 50, but it's not seen as particularly useful to have them regularly if you're younger than that, unless you are experiencing specific symptoms like lumps. Generally speaking, an annual visit is a good rule of thumb — the Cleveland Clinic recommends that you go to your gynecologist at least once a year, to do general tests and have a full exam.

Your Therapist

Asking "how often should I see a therapist" may actually be the wrong way to phrase it. The key part of an effective therapist experience, the American Psychological Association points out, "is the process of building a trusting, therapeutic relationship with your psychologist" (or psychiatrist, social worker, or counselor, depending on your choice of therapy). You and your therapist will need to work out a timetable that will do that effectively, as well as fit into your schedule and give you the best chance to work through your problems.

Psychologist Debra Berg explains that many therapy programs start by suggesting weekly sessions, because they have a degree of "intensity," building on progress and firming a therapeutic relationship within a short time period. But for some people a more relaxed schedule is necessary; couples therapy, for instance, is sometimes offered on a bimonthly basis, to give couples more time to digest and put into practice what they learn in sessions. Regularity is key, because therapy is meant to be a stable element where long-term problems and patterns can be discussed (which distinguishes it from counseling, where the counsellor focuses on helping with specific, immediate problems, like grief).

Your Local STD Clinic

If you go to a Planned Parenthood or another general gynecological clinic, this may be part of your gynecological exam; but if it's not and you're sexually active, you need to have it done. Planned Parenthood themselves recommend that, even for people practicing safe sex or in monogamous relationships, STD testing should happen once a year. That doesn't include HIV, which the Centre For Disease Control And Prevention recommends you need to get tested for at least once in your life, even if you believe you've never been in a situation where you could contract it.

And obviously, STD testing is situation-dependent; you should get checked when beginning a relationship with a new partner, if you're having symptoms, or if you've been a position where you believe you may have been vulnerable. The Mayo Clinic also points out that there are certain periods in life or situations where you should be cautious; you're recommended to request a syphilis or hepatitis test if you're planning on becoming pregnant, for instance.

As with most things medical, there's less to get freaked out about here than there might seem at first; so if you haven't been to the gyno since President Obama's first term in office, don't get anxious. Just get an appointment.

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