Having a regularly scheduled physical exam can provide many benefits that we may not think about in our everyday life. Here are a few benefits
Peace of mind -knowing that you are in good health gives you confidence which can lead to less stress and more relaxed living
Early detection – most diseases manifest before there are any physical symptoms. For diseases with long progression periods (certain cancers, heart disease, etc.) early detection key to beginning treatment and conquering an illness
Allows you to monitor “unseen” health issues – your blood pressure, cholesterol levels or heart disease, to mention only a few. Comparing your physical exam results from year to year will show where you are improving, and where you may need help.
Doctor-patient relationship – establishes a relationship with your primary care physician to turn to when more serious problems arise. Don’t wait until an issue comes up before you Google search or telephone your insurance company to find a doctor.
The Annual Physical Exam
For some people, the annual physical examination is a source of reassurance that they’re as healthy as they feel. Others see it as an alarm system, to catch health problems before they become serious.
“Getting a check-up” is frequently required by many companies and insurances today but is also valuable to the person who wants to be and stay healthy. What can you expect from your annual physical exam?
Annual Physical Exam: The Basics
Doctors typically begin by listening to your reason for obtaining a physical exam. There are many different reasons for the visit and although some of the exam parts are the same, the Doctor will customize the exam to meet your individual needs.
History: You should mention any concerns or goals with your health. It’s important to speak openly about important behaviors, like smoking, alcohol use, sexual health, diet, and exercise. The doctor will also check on your vaccination status and update your personal and family medical history.
Vital Signs: These are some vital signs checked by your doctor:
- Blood pressure: less than 120 over 80 is a normal blood pressure. Doctors define high blood pressure (hypertension) as 140 over 90 or higher.
- Heart rate: Values between 60 and 100 are considered normal although many healthy people have heart rates slower than 60.
- Respiration rate: Between 12 and 20 is normal. Breathing more than 20 times per minute may suggest heart or lung problems.
- Temperature: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the average, but healthy people can have resting temperatures slightly higher or lower. A fever is not present until the temperature is over 101.0 degrees Fahrenheit.
General Appearance: Your doctor gathers a large amount of information about you and your health just by watching and talking to you. How is your memory and mental quickness? Does your skin appear healthy?
Lung Exam: Using a stethoscope, a doctor listens for crackles, wheezes, or decreased breath sounds. These and other sounds are clues to the presence of heart or lung disease.
Head and Neck Exam: Opening up and saying “ah” shows off your throat and tonsils. The quality of your teeth and gums also provides information about your overall health. Ears, nose, sinuses, eyes, lymph nodes, thyroid, and carotid arteries are also examined.
Abdominal Exam: The doctor can use a range of examination techniques including tapping your abdomen to detect liver size and presence of abdominal fluid, listening for bowel sounds with a stethoscope, and palpating for tenderness.
Neurological Exam: Nerves, muscle strength, reflexes, balance, and mental state are assessed.
Dermatological Exam: Skin and nail findings could indicate a dermatological problem or disease somewhere else in the body.
Extremities Exam: Your doctor will look for physical and sensory changes. Pulses can be checked in your arms and legs. Examining joints can assess for abnormalities.
Male Physical Exam
An annual physical exam for men might also include:
- Testicular exam: A doctor can check each testicle for lumps, tenderness, or changes in size. Most men with testicular cancer notice a growth before seeing a doctor.
- Hernia exam: The famous “turn your head and cough” checks for a weakness in the abdominal wall between the intestines and scrotum. (The actual reason you turn your head is so you don’t cough on the doctor.)
- Penis exam: A doctor might notice evidence of sexually transmitted infections such as warts or ulcers on the penis.
- Prostate exam: Inserting a finger in the rectum lets a doctor feel the prostate for its size and any suspicious areas.
Female Physical Exam
A woman’s annual exam might include:
- Breast exam. Feeling for abnormal lumps may detect breast cancer or benign breast conditions. The doctor will also check the lymph nodes in the underarm area and look for visual abnormalities of the breasts.
There are no standard laboratory tests during an annual physical. However, your doctor may order certain tests routinely:
- Complete blood count
- Screening test for diabetes and lipid panel
- Chemistry panel
- Urinalysis (UA)
- Thyroid function tests
Physical Exams Emphasize Prevention
The annual physical exam is a great opportunity to refocus your attention on prevention and screening:
- Regular screening for colorectal cancer.
- Annual mammogram screening for breast cancer.
- Cholesterol (lipids) checked every five years after age 20, according to the American Heart Association.
Healthy behaviors work far better than medicine at preventing illness, and don’t require a prescription:
- Do 30 minutes of brisk walking or other exercise, most days of the week. Your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer will fall dramatically.
- Eat a mostly plant-based diet, low in animal fats.
- Above all, don’t smoke.
Additional services like, chest X-ray, EKG, blood labs, ABI and pulmonary function testing. Keeping up a good relationship with your doctor through regular visits is a widely recognized and valuable part of maintaining good health.