How often does a teenager need to be seen by his or her doctor?

Teens and younger school-aged children, like adults, should visit their doctor once a year for a full history and physical exam. If a chronic medical condition exists or if signs or symptoms of an illness or disease are present, more frequent office visits may be necessary.

What might a doctor check during a teen health care wellness visit?

Your doctor may perform any of the following:

  • Measure your height, weight, and blood pressure.
  • Order tests (such as a check for anemia, a cholesterol level once in teenage years) to check your general health, find certain diseases, or determine if you are at risk for certain health problems.
  • Check young men for hernias and testicular cancer and teach testicular self examination.
  • Screen for sexually transmitted diseases with a simple urine test (for girls and guys).
  • Teach young girls after age 20 years on how to perform a self breast examination, and educate on when to obtain a pelvic examination. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends a pelvic examination at age 21 years, or 3 years after having started sexual intercourse. Girls no longer need a pelvic examination just because they have turned 18 years of age.
  • Check your immunization record and catch you up on any necessary booster shots (to reduce the risk of contracting chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, hepatitis, human papillomavirus, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus).
  • Check your vision and hearing if not done elsewhere.
  • Check your teeth for signs of tooth decay, abnormal tooth development, dental injuries and other oral health problems.
  • Ask you about potentially harmful behaviors and social or emotional problems.

What are the most common health-related concerns of teens and how can teens best safeguard their health?

Issues involving weight, body image, prevention and disease, puberty and sexual development are typical concerns of this age group. Sports injuries are also common. Actions to take to keep you healthy and to discuss in greater detail with your doctor include:

  • Get regular exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including adequate calcium (4 dairy a day, or 1200-1500 mg of calcium daily).
  • Do not smoke or use any type of tobacco or smokeless tobacco product. Avoid breathing second-hand smoke.
  • Use all safety and protective devices designed for the activity in which you are engaged. For example, use seat belts when driving, bike helmets when bicycle riding, and protective sports equipment when participating in sports.
  • Never drink and drive and never get into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking or taking illegal drugs.
  • Tell your parents or doctor if you are having learning problems or difficulties at school.
  • Ask for help in learning how to resolve conflicts without the use of violence. Avoid situations in which fighting may break out and cause you to be physically harmed.
  • Tell your parents or doctor if you are feeling really sad or are thinking about harming yourself.
  • If you are having sex, use condoms plus a second method of contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Negotiating "no" is always fair game, and we can coach you on how to do this effectively.

Certain topics are embarrassing to discuss. How can I approach my doctor about them?

Most doctors realize how tough it is to be a teenager these days. Beyond the emotional and physical changes you are going though, there are numerous pressures and stresses to deal with arising from school, home, extracurricular activities, jobs, and friends. Some of the health problems teens are embarrassed to discuss with their doctors concern sex, drugs, eating problems, weight concerns, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Here are a few thoughts that should put you more at ease with your doctor:

  • Keep in mind that your doctor is trained to help you with your health problems and check out the things that worry you most.
  • Ignoring a potential health problem will not make it go away. In fact, it might make the problem worse and even result in a permanent health problem. So even if you feel uncomfortable talking with your doctor about a sensitive health issue, keep in mind that your few moments of feeling uncomfortable are outweighed by the health benefit of addressing a potential health problem early in its course.
  • Remember that your doctor has seen your health problem or fielded your health question hundreds of times before. Your doctor will not be alarmed or surprised by any health issue you wish to discuss with him or her.
  • Your doctor is interested in keeping you healthy, not in judging you. A good doctor will listen respectfully, examine, educate, and treat you—not criticize you.
  • Finally, it’s up to you to be honest and open about any health issue that is of concern to you. Your doctor can best help you if he or she knows what health issues are bothering you. If you cannot put your concerns to words, try opening the conversation by listing your problems, symptoms, and questions on a piece of paper and handing it to your doctor.

Can I keep my doctor’s visit private?

Ask your doctor what his or her policy is regarding keeping your discussion and treatment confidential. You have the right to privacy with respect to concerns about sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. If your life (or someone else) is at risk, the doctor may be required to disclose private information to keep you safe; he or she will tell you prior to this disclosure, in almost all cases (with exceptions such as if you were unconscious). Billing may or may not be confidential; please ask your doctor about this is you have any concerns.

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