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How Often Should Preteens/Teens Get a Physical Exam?

by
author image Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.
How Often Should Preteens/Teens Get a Physical Exam?
Annual physical exams can help ensure your preteen or teen is healthy. Photo Credit Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Well-checkups are recommended annually from age 10 on, according to MedlinePlus, a website published by the National Institutes of Health. Puberty and reproductive health are among the top issues of concern during the preteen and teen years. At least three of an adolescent's yearly doctor visits should include a thorough head-to-toe physical examination.

Doctor Visits

The first complete preteen or teen physical exam should take place at some point between ages 11 and 14, the second during mid-adolescence or between ages 15 to 17 and the third between ages 18 and 21, explains KidsHealth.org. A physician may closely examine the eyes, ears, nose, throat, mouth, abdomen, back, arms and legs. Preteens and teens are also typically screened for scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.

In boys, the genitals and the scrotum -- the bag of skin that carries and protects the testicles -- are examined. It's never too young to examine genitalia in males -- in fact even baby boys should be checked for congenital irregularities, notes Cigna.com. Breast, pelvic and vaginal exams may begin as young as ages 13 to 15 in adolescent girls.

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Significance

An adolescent girl will be taught how to correctly perform a monthly breast exam, by her pediatrician or other health care provider. She may also be referred to a gynecologist for future checkups. An adolescent boy will learn to correctly carry out a testicular self-exam to look for potentially cancerous lumps. Some doctors recommend that boys perform monthly testicular self-exams starting at age 15. Testicular cancer most often strikes young men ages 20 to 39, notes MedlinePlus.

Age-Specific Concerns

As preteens and teens navigate their way through puberty, sexual issues will be on the shortlist of health concerns. Doctors should inquire into an adolescent's sexual behavior that could lead to unintended pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as genital herpes, gonorrhea and HIV and the importance of using condoms and other birth control methods are also appropriate topics of discussion. Preteens and teens should be asked about any unhealthy behaviors such as eating disorders, alcohol or drug use or abuse as well as emotional problems that may be a sign of depression.

Vaccinations

Regular doctor visits help ensure that adolescents are current on their immunizations. Acellular pertussis (Tdap) and tetanus and diphtheria (Td) boosters are recommended between the ages of 11 and 12 years of age. All preteens and teens need three doses of the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine, notes KidsHealth.org. The immunization guards against HPV, the most common cause of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine also prevents cancer of the anus and penis. By age 13, teens should also have been immunized against varicella -- unless they've already had chicken pox -- measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B series (HBV) and hepatitis A series (HAV).

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