5 Important Medical Checkups To Have In Your 20s

Have you had a smear test yet?
PHOTO: Tamara Schlesinger

1. Smear Test

How often? Ideally, around your 25th birthday. After that, it's once every three years until you're 50.

What for? Smear tests check for abnormal cell changes in your cervix, the narrow passage at the opening of your womb. If your test flags up abnormalities, don't freak out: 6 in every 100 women have an abnormal result, and it doesn't automatically mean you have cervical cancerin many cases, the cells go back to normal by themselves. However, your doctor will investigate further and if the changes are significant, you'll be offered treatment to remove the cells before something serious develops. 

What happens? You'll usually be seen by a nurse, who'll ask you to undress from the waist down, hop onto a table and lie back with the soles of your feet touching. She'll then use a speculum to open up the walls of your vagina, and insert a small, soft brush to take some cells. It's kind of awkward, but for most women, it's not painful, and the whole process takes about 3 minutes, so even if you are embarrassed, it's totally worth it for three years of peace of mind. Note: if you have any unusual symptoms, like bleeding, unusual discharge or pain during sex, you should see your doctor ASAP, regardless of when your next smear is due.

2. Eye test

How often? Even if you don't think you've got any problems with your eyes, you should still get them tested every two years. If you work in front of a computer all day, your employers might offer them for free, so it's def worth checking your company policy. 

What for? Your risk of developing problems with your sight increases from the age of 40, but as part of a generation who's grown up binge watching TV shows and spending hours scrolling Facebook, it's a no brainer to start taking care of your eyes as early as possible. The most common problem in your twenties is eye strain, which comes from staring at screens, as well as concentrating on things like driving or reading, causing sore eyes and tension headaches. It's easily fixed with a pair of glasses or contacts, or if you already have one of these solutions, an adjustment to your current prescription - but you'll need to visit your optician to figure out which option is best. 

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What happens? This varies depending on your needs, but there are standard things that happen during most eye tests. Your optician will blow a few puffs of air into your eye to test the pressure inside, as this can be an early indicator of sight-threatening conditions, and ask you to read letters from a chart through a range of lenses, along with a couple of other simple procedures. Ultimately, eye tests are really quick and should never hurt.

3. STD test

How often? Are you sexually active? Then you should have a sexual health screening on at least an annual basis, and if you've had unprotected sex with one or multiple new partners, it's time to schedule your next. Remember, just because you don't have any symptoms, doesn't mean you don't have an STDyou still need to go even if you don't have any present concerns. 

What for? STD tests can check for a whole range of sexually transmitted conditions, from chlamydia and gonorrhea to hepatitis and HIV. A standard check up will usually test for everything except herpes, which you won't be checked for unless you have any sores in your intimate areas, but you can ask for a test for a specific STD if you're worried.  

What happens? You'll be asked a few questions about your sexual history, and then your tests will be tailored to your personal circumstances. Mostly, you'll give a blood and/or urine sample, and have swabs taken from your vagina, which you can do yourselfyou don't usually need to have a genital examination if you don't have any current symptoms. And before you ask, your results will be sent to you over the phone, through text or in an unmarked envelope in the post, so your housemates/parents/postman will be none the wiser.

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4. Dental check up

How often? There's no hard and fast official guidance on how often you flash your gnashers at your dentist, but a good rule of thumb is every year at least. If you've got dental problems you're already aware of, you could increase this to every six or even three months, or if your mouth is very healthy, you could push it back to once very two years. 

What for? Dental check ups are used to check the overall condition of your mouth and teeth, as well as look out for anything more concerning, like signs of decay.

What happens? Your dentist will examine your mouth for basic oral health, as well as any other issues that might need addressing. Based on their findings, they may then recommend further treatment like a scale and polish, or a filling. 

5. Breast exam

How often? According to Cancer Research UK, you don't need to check your breasts daily, or even monthly, but you do need to know what's normal for you, and figure out how to spot any changes. The good news is you don't need to make any appointments or go to a clinicyou can do this one yourself.

What for? Looking for certain symptoms can help to identify the early onset of breast cancer, and the earlier it's caught, the better your chances of beating it. Based on the latest figures, only around 200 women in every 100, 000 will develop breast cancer in their twenties, but it can still happen in younger women, and checking your breasts is a good habit to get into for later life anyway. 

What happens? Changes in your breasts can be as subtle as a dimple on your skin and as obvious as bleeding from your nipple, so it's important to know your pair visually and through touch. When you're in the shower, make it part of your routine to feel each breast and armpit, right up to your collarbone, and look for any changes in size, shape, texture of the skin or discharge. If you find anything, particularly a lump, visit your doctor as soon as you can. 9 out of 10 of them aren't cancerous, but ruling it out is crucial.  

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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors. 

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