Getting a Physical Examination
An annual physical exam ensures wellness and good health by monitoring vitals like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other markers.
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Getting a Physical Exam
An annual physical exam ensures wellness and good health. Some consider
it a preventive step and a way to catch a more serious condition before it
begins to cause problems. An annual physical can also monitor vitals like
weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other markers.
What Does a Physical Exam Address?
Doctors use a physical exam to see how the body is performing.
Depending on a patient’s personal health history, a doctor may choose to focus
on certain areas of a physical exam. People with a family history of heart
disease may receive additional blood pressure checks, blood tests, and cholesterol
Based on test results, age, and personal health history, it is also an
opportunity to discuss future prevention measures.
An average physical exam may include the following components:
healthy history: a doctor may ask to be updated on new developments
including job and relationships, as well as medications or supplements.
sign checks: This includes taking a blood pressure reading, and checking heart
rate and respiratory rate. At a minimum, blood pressure should be checked every
exam: your the doctor will review a patient’s appearance for signs of any
exams: A thorough physical exam including checking the head and neck,
abdominal area, hair, nails, and limbs. The doctor will also listen to the
heart and lungs.
tests: To complete the physical, the doctor may draw blood in order to run several
laboratory tests. These can include a complete blood count and chemistry panel.
This helps detect irregularities in the blood that might indicate a larger
problem. They may request a lipid panel, or cholesterol test, if a patient has
an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, or stroke.
Screening tests might also be requested. These differ for women and
a mammogram is needed every two years between the ages of 50 and 74. A patient
can request more or less frequent testing based on personal and family history
of breast cancer.
- Pap smear:
Women should begin screening within three years of starting sexual activity or
age 21 (whichever comes first) and screening at least every three years thereafter.
test: Women should begin regular cholesterol checks at age 45. Those with a
history or genetic predisposition for diabetes or heart disease may need to
begin cholesterol checks as early as age 20.
screening: Bone density scans should begin around age 65.
exam: At each physical, a breast exam can be used to check for abnormal
lumps or signs of breast cancer.
exam: While taking a sample for a Pap smear, the doctor may also perform a
full pelvic exam. This includes examining the vagina, cervix, and vulva for
signs of a sexually transmitted infection or other conditions.
test: Men are advised to begin regular cholesterol checks at age 35 and
continue to have one every five years. Patients with a history or genetic
predisposition to diabetes or heart disease may need to begin cholesterol
checks as early as age 20.
cancer screening: Men may need prostate-specific antigen tests or digital
exam: A doctor may wish to check each testicle for signs of a problem,
including lumps, changes in size, and tenderness.
Both Men and Women
cancer test: Begin tests for this cancer at age 50.
Many patients aren’t aware of their symptoms of depression because they are easily
attributed to other things. However, a depression screening at each yearly
check-up can check to see if symptoms are a result of depression.
People with a family history or risk factors for diabetes, such as high blood
pressure and high cholesterol, should be screened for diabetes. Doctors may use
the fasting blood sugar or the HbA1c test.
transmitted infections (STI) screening: Based on personal sexual history,
regular STI screenings during each annual physical exam may be suggested.
Where and How Will the Test be Administered?
Most full physical exams are performed only once a year in a doctor’s
office. When additional screenings or imaging tests are recommended, some may
be completed at an imaging center or hospital. Blood test draws can be
performed at the doctor’s office before samples are sent to a lab for analysis.
What Are the Risks of the Test?
Most portions of a physical exam carry no risks. Some mild discomfort and
pain might occur during a blood test when the needle is inserted into the vein
for blood withdrawal. A small bruise may also develop where the needle was
inserted after it’s removed. This bruise should heal in a few days.
While the physical exam is considered by many to be a great way to
develop an overall picture of a person’s health, some experts are not as
convinced of its necessity. Some abnormal test results may cause unnecessary
worry. It is important to speak with a doctor about physical exams. They may
not require one each year.
There is no need to prepare for a physical exam, unless a doctor
requests a fast for a fasting blood test.
What Are the Desired Results?
The doctor may request a return visit to discuss test results. The
physical exam is a chance for a frank discussion about health, habits, and a
patient’s future. Signs of potential problems can be tackled with a plan to
Kimberly Holland and Tim Jewell
Medically Reviewed by:
Judith Marcin, MD
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.