Check-Ups In Your 50s: What Your Primary Care Doctor is Looking For

You’re in your 50s. You have settled into your life. Your children may have gone off to college or are starting their careers. You have time to relax and think about what matters most to you.

As you begin to grow into the later years of adulthood, you become more prone to risk of disease. Degenerative disease is something you can take steps to avoid by being careful with our diet and lifestyle.

But with so many different obligations, how can you ensure you are maintaining your health?

All it takes is scheduling one day from your busy schedule to see your doctor for a check-up.

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But what happens in this process? What are they looking for? I reached out to one of our most trusted resources on the topic.

Keck Medicine of USC’s very own assistant professor of clinical family medicine, Rose Taroyan, MD, MPH goes into detail of exactly what she and her staff are checking for when you visit the doctor’s office:

1. BMI Evaluation

When you are in your 50s, the first thing primary care physicians like Dr. Rose Taroyan do is check your BMI. Your BMI is your Body Mass Index. In other words, it is a value that you get when you combine your weight and height. This number indicates how healthy your weight is.

During this process, your primary care physician is going to do an obesity screening. If the value is too high or too low, counseling will be provided.

This is a good time to talk to your primary care physician about your:

  • Physical activity
  • Nutrition
  • Daily habits

Your physician may provide you with:

  • Exercise tips and activities
  • Eating habits (consuming 5 or more servings of fruits or vegetables daily)
  • Preventing heart disease

2. Depression Screening

While seeing your primary care physician, they will be checking for signs of depression. If you feel down or think you may be suffering from depression, be honest with your doctor.

During this screening, they will go through a quick and simple test that consists of 10 questions:

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  2. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
  3. Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much?
  4. Feeling tired or having little energy?
  5. Poor appetite or overeating?
  6. Feeling bad about yourself, or that you are a failure, or have let yourself or your family down?
  7. Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television?
  8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people have noticed. Or the opposite – being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual?
  9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?
  10. If you checked off any problems, how difficult have these problems made it for you to do your work, take care of things at home, or get along with other people?

Your answers will be recorded on a scale of 0 to 3, depending on whether you have these feelings:

Not at all = 0 points
Several days = 1 point
More than half the days = 2 points
Nearly every day = 3 points
Based off these scores, your doctor will be able to tell you if you suffer from no depression, minimal depression or major depression. This will help your physician be able to identify the best course of action for treatment.

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3. Anxiety Screening

In your 50s, you have responsibilities, both to your health and to your family. That could make anxiety a factor in your life. After the depression screening is complete, another quick screening is done to identify your level of anxiety.

The quiz looks like this:

Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems?

Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge

Not being able to stop or control worrying

Worrying too much about different things

Trouble relaxing

Being so restless that it’s hard to sit still

Becoming easily annoyed or irritable

Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen

Your answers will be recorded on a four-point scale and answered with: not at all, several days, more than half the days or nearly every day.

Your score will be able to determine whether or not you have little or no anxiety, severe anxiety and everything in between. This will allow your doctor to determine exactly how they can best serve your needs.

4. Diabetes Screening

After you are checked for anxiety, the next thing your primary care physician will do is screen you for diabetes. This goes on regularly until you are 70. There are many risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight, obese, experiencing hypertension or hyperlipidemia.

Based on your results, your doctor will be able to help provide you with treatment options.

5. Heart Disease Prevention

The next thing your primary care physician is going to want to check is your risk for heart disease. The goal here is to prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack.

If anything looks out of the ordinary, physicians like Dr. Rose Taroyan will be able to provide you with tips and instructions on how to keep it under control.

  • If you are a man in between the age of 45-79, your primary care physician may prescribe aspirin to you to help prevent cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.
  • If you are a woman in between the age of 55-79, your primary care physician may prescribe aspirin to you to prevent cardiovascular disease and strokes.

6. Mammogram (for women)

If you are a woman, a mammogram will be done every two years. A mammogram is used to check for breast cancer.

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7. Colorectal Cancer Screening

Your primary care physician will then do a screening for colorectal cancer. This continues until you are 79. This consists of:

  • FOBT (fecal occult blood testing) is done every year
  • A sigmoidoscopy will be done once every five years
  • A colonoscopy will be done once every 10 years

8. Lung Cancer Screening

From age 55 until 80, if you smoke at least a pack a year, currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years, a low-dose helical CT scan will be done to check for lung cancer.

9. Immunizations

After your lung cancer screening is complete, your primary care physician will give you an immunization shot for Zoster. This is a shot that prevents you from catching shingles.

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10. Nutritional counseling and physical

In your 50s, diet is key to maintaining a long life. Your primary care physician will ask you about what you are eating, what vitamins you are taking and how much physical activity you are involved in each week. A plan will then be laid out to prevent damage to the heart’s major blood vessels. The goal here is to prevent heart disease.

11. Alcohol misuse (CAGE) – screening and behavioral counseling interventions

Your primary care physician is going to want to check for alcohol misuse. This is done by your doctor through a screening and behavioral counseling interventions.

This starts off by identifying your CAGE score. To figure this out, your primary care physician will ask you 4 simple questions:

  1. Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye-opener)?

A total score of two or greater is considered significant.

12. Tobacco use counseling and pharmacotherapy intervention

During the checkup, your doctor will be asking about your use of tobacco, providing counseling (if necessary) and discussing pharmacotherapy invention (if needed). Pharmacotherapy invention is basically medication to help end tobacco use: for instance, nicotine gum, the patch or prescription pills.

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Understanding what your primary care physician is checking for will help prepare you for your visit. Remember, both you and your physician have the same goal – to keep you healthy. If your current doctor is missing out on some of these crucial screenings, maybe it is time to consider a new primary care doctor.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top physicians in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting

By Leonard Kim