What Is a Physical Examination?
A physical examination is a routine test your primary care
provider (PCP) performs to check your overall health. A PCP may be a doctor, a
nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant. The exam is also known as a
wellness check. You don’t have to be sick to request an exam.
The physical exam can be a good time to ask your PCP questions
about your health or discuss any changes or problems that you have noticed.
There are different tests that can be performed during your
physical examination. Depending on your age or medical or family history, your PCP
may recommend additional testing.
The Purpose of an Annual Physical Exam
A physical examination helps your PCP to determine the general
status of your health. The exam also gives you a chance to talk to them about any
ongoing pain or symptoms that you are experiencing or any other health concerns
that you might have.
A physical examination is recommended at least once a year,
especially in people over the age of 50. These exams are used to:
- check for possible diseases so they can be
- identify any issues that may become medical
concerns in the future
- update necessary immunizations
- ensure that you are maintaining a healthy diet
and exercise routine
- build a relationship with your PCP
These exams are also a good way to check cholesterol, blood
pressure, and blood sugar levels. These levels may be high without you ever
showing any signs or symptoms. Regular screening allows your PCP to treat these
conditions before they become severe.
Your PCP may also perform a physical exam before a surgery or before
beginning your treatment for a medical condition.
How to Prepare for a Physical Examination
Make your appointment with the PCP of your choice. If you have a
family PCP, they can provide you with a physical examination. If you don’t
already have a PCP, you can contact your health insurance for a list of
providers in your area.
Proper preparation for your physical examination can help you get
the most out of your time with your PCP. You should gather the following
paperwork before your physical examination:
- list of current medications you take, including
over-the-counter drugs and any herbal supplements
- list of any symptoms or pain you are
- results from any recent or relevant tests
- medical and surgical history
- names and contact information for other doctors
you may have seen recently
- if you have an implanted device such as a
pacemaker or defibrillator, bring a copy of the front and back of your device
- any additional questions you would like answered
You may want to dress in comfortable clothing and avoid any
excess jewelry, makeup, or other things that would prevent your PCP from fully
examining your body.
How Is a Physical Examination Performed?
Before meeting with your PCP, a nurse will ask you a series of
questions regarding your medical history, including any allergies, past surgeries,
or symptoms you might have. They may also ask about your lifestyle, including if
you exercise, smoke, or drink alcohol.
Your PCP will usually begin the exam by inspecting your body for
any unusual marks or growths. You may sit or stand during this part of the exam.
Next, they may have you lie down and will feel your abdomen and
other parts of your body. When doing this, your PCP is inspecting the
consistency, location, size, tenderness, and texture of your individual organs.
Your PCP will use a stethoscope — the listening device doctors
typically keep around their necks — to listen to various parts of your body.
This could include listening to your lungs while you take deep breaths and
listening to your intestines.
Your PCP will also use the stethoscope to listen your heart to
make sure there are no abnormal sounds. Your PCP can evaluate your heart and
valve function and hear your heart’s rhythm during the exam.
Your PCP will also use a technique known as “percussion,” tapping
the body like it is a drum. This technique helps your PCP discover fluid in
areas where it shouldn’t be, as well as locate the borders, consistency, and
size of organs.
Your PCP will also check your height, weight, and pulse.
Be sure to communicate with your PCP if you have any concerns
throughout the exam. While you can always contact your PCP as needed, your
physical examination is your private time set up to ask questions about
anything health-related. If you don’t understand any test that your PCP is
doing, don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Following Up After a Physical Examination
After the appointment, you are free to go about your day. Your PCP
may be in touch with you after the exam. They will generally provide you with a
copy of your test results and carefully go over the report. Your PCP will point
out any problem areas and tell you anything that you should be doing. Depending
on what your PCP finds, you may need other tests or screenings at a later date.
If no additional tests are needed and no health problems arise,
you are set until next year.