Preventive health is key to helping you stay healthy and detecting health problems early on, before they cause other issues or become more difficult to treat.

A woman visits with her doctor for a preventive health checkup, and discusses her health with her doctor.Share on Pinterest
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Most of us think of going to the doctor as something we do when we aren’t feeling well or when we need treatment for a specific medical condition. Preventive health refers to routine care you receive in order to maintain your health. It’s key to diagnosing medical conditions before they become a problem.

Preventing serious diseases before they happen is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. Unfortunately, uptake isn’t nearly as robust as it needs to be. One study from 2018 found that only 8% of adults in the United States who are 35 years and older received the preventive care recommended to them.

Let’s take a look at what preventive healthcare is, what types of tests, screenings, and services are included, and the role your family history plays when it comes to the preventive tests you may need.

Preventive health encompasses a set of health services meant to screen and possibly identify health issues before symptoms develop. Preventive healthcare can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Adult preventive healthcare typically includes screenings for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as counseling for smoking cessation and balanced eating habits.

For children, preventive healthcare includes yearly checkups, vaccinations, and screenings for conditions like autism and lead poisoning.

Preventive healthcare costs

Most health insurance plans will cover the full cost of your preventive health services, with no co-payments. This includes most private health insurance plans and health insurance plans purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Health plans acquired through Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also cover preventive care, with no co-payments or other costs to you.

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Preventive care for adults involves screening for chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, as well as immunizations against serious illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.

It also involves education and counseling that can help you make positive lifestyle choices that protect your overall health and well-being.

The types of screenings recommended for you may vary based on your age and family history. The following are the most common preventive screenings for adults:

  • Screenings for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer: These screenings are some of the most common cancers affecting men and women, and early detection can stop them from spreading or becoming more serious.
  • Screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes: These screenings can help detect common metabolic conditions that can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. If left untreated, they may lead to serious disease and premature death.
  • Immunizations: We usually think of vaccines as something kids need, but adults need to stay on top of their vaccines as well. Vaccines recommended for adults include annual flu shots, COVID-19 vaccines, and boosters for vaccines you received as a child that may have worn off
  • Counseling: Preventive counseling may be available to help you manage a chronic condition. It may also be used to help you make healthy lifestyle choices, quit smoking if you smoke, or to screen for mental health conditions.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.

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Preventive care for children helps protect them from some of the serious illnesses that can affect kids, and includes screenings to detect behavioral and health conditions. Preventive healthcare can help children stay healthy when they’re young and also as they grow older.

Preventive healthcare for children is covered in full under most insurance plans, and is always covered in full by Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Some of the preventive care offered to children includes:

  • Well-child visits: These visits happen every few months when your child is an infant, and yearly after that. Well-child visits include measurements of your child’s growth and developmental milestones. Routine immunizations and screenings are also conducted during these visits.
  • Vaccinations: Vaccinations for children protect them from serious diseases now and in the future. Routine childhood vaccines include polio, hepatitis A and B, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and chickenpox (varicella).
  • Behavioral and mental health screenings: Pediatricians routinely screen children for conditions like autism, depression, and developmental delays.
  • Blood tests: Various blood test screenings will be conducted throughout childhood, including tests that measure a newborn’s bilirubin levels, tests that look for signs of anemia, and tests that measure the amount of lead in your child’s blood.

If a close relative (like your mother, father, or sibling) has a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, you’re considered to have a family history of that condition.

This means that screenings for that particular condition are important, and you may even need early or more robust screening than someone who doesn’t have this same family history.

Learning that you have a family history of a serious health condition can be discouraging and stressful, but knowledge is power. While you can’t change your genetic risk, you can participate in health screenings that can detect this condition early, so that treatment is more effective.

Furthermore, when you know your family history, you can take steps to lower your risk of specific conditions. You can be proactive about engaging in healthy lifestyle choices that are known to help prevent these conditions from developing or worsening.

If you aren’t sure what your family health history is, now might be a good time to discuss this with your close family members.

If you find out that certain diseases tend to run in your family, tell your physician about this at your next checkup. They can help you understand which preventive screenings may be appropriate for you, and whether you may need to be screened for these conditions at an earlier age, or more frequently than other people.

When you talk with your doctor, you may get any number of tests done — some may be preventive tests and others may be diagnostic tests.

Preventive tests refer to screenings you get to detect diseases and conditions, before symptoms develop. On the other hand, diagnostic tests are used to learn more about a condition once symptoms are present.

As an example, getting a screening blood test for diabetes when you don’t have any symptoms is considered a preventive test. However, if you’ve already received a diagnosis of diabetes and you get a test to check your blood sugar and A1C, this would be a diagnostic test.

One of the best things you can do for your health and well-being is to get screened for any serious conditions before they happen. That’s what preventive health is about, and why medical experts recommend that all adults and children participate in routine tests, screenings, and immunizations.

Preventive health services offer significant health benefits, and are covered by most insurance companies. In other words, participating in preventive care usually won’t cost you anything. In fact, if any conditions are identified, early treatment will likely save you money on healthcare costs in the future.

If you have any questions about preventive care and what screenings you or your children should get, be sure to talk with your doctor or healthcare professional.