Self-Checks to Do at Home

For decades, women have heard the repeated messaging about the importance of doing monthly self-exams as a way to detect early signs of breast cancer. The widespread nature of this campaign went a long way toward normalizing other kinds of self-checks that are now available to men, women and children. More recently, people have turned to at-home tests to check for COVID-19. This experience also seems to have opened the door for a wider acceptance of other self-checks.   

Self-checks for health conditions and at-home tests have become increasingly common in recent years. This change has come as more people feel comfortable being in control of certain aspects of monitoring their own health. Health self-checks can be done as a preventive measure, like a testicular self-exam. They can also be done as a way to monitor a chronic illness, like diabetes or a heart condition. 

According to a report from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, a recent poll shows nearly 50% of people between the ages of 50 and 80 had purchased at least one type of at-home health test. And more than 80% of older adults surveyed said they were open to taking medical tests at home.   

It is always a good idea to talk to a health care provider during an annual physical about any self-checks that have been conducted at home, or to review any concerns.     

Here are some common self-checks people can do at home: 

  • Heart rate: A heart rate is an easy thing to self-check. The average heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute at rest. Your heartbeat should be a regular rhythm and not “skip” beats. Harvard Medical School offers easy ways to check a heart rate:   
  • Lightly press the index and middle fingers of one hand on the opposite wrist, near the base of the thumb.  
  • Lightly press the side of the neck, just below the jawbone  
  • Using either method, count the beats for 15 seconds. Multiply by four to find the heart rate.  
  • Blood pressure: Blood pressure is a health indicator, so regular blood pressure screenings can alert people to problems. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.  Notify your physician if your blood pressure is elevated.  
  • Testicular cancer: Monthly self-checks for lumps or irregularities should be paired with an annual check by a doctor.   
  • Skin checks: Monthly self-checks for any changes to skin on the face, neck, back and the rest of the body can provide early detection. For best results, use a mirror or a family member to assist. The American Cancer Society shares tips on how to do skin checks on its website.   
  • Blood sugar: People with diabetes should be doing regular blood sugar tests, as directed by their doctor.  
  • Breast self-awareness:  Women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel. It is important to notify a physician if any changes occur. It is no longer recommended to do monthly self-breast exams because of lack of evidence to support this intervention.   
  • Waistline measurements: These measurements help screen for possible health risks associated with weight gain and obesity. Using a tape measure, measure the narrowest part of the torso, and be sure to measure the same spot each time. Doing this helps screen for possible health risks that come with overweight and obesity.
  • Mouth screening: Looking into the mouth can be important to monitor for certain cancers and precancer that form orally. If there is a new growth or color change, please contact a health care professional. 

Self-checks at home may require specialized equipment. Individuals should consult with their health care provider to make sure they are using accurate, safe equipment from reputable sources. Individuals should also check their health insurance to see if their plan covers part of the cost.  

Getting an annual physical is a great way to discuss a personalized care plan with a qualified professional. 

Amy McKenzie, M.D., is associate chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  


Photo credit: Getty Images


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