Physical Exams

An examination for school, sports or annually is an essential part of your general health care. Your doctor will likely quiz you about lifestyle behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol use, sexual health, diet and exercise. The doctor will also check on your vaccination status and update your personal and family medical history.

What can you expect from your physical examination?

Physical exams usually check the following:

Vital signs checked by your doctor: blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and respiration rate which can suggest heart or lung problems and your body temperature.

Doctors can gather large amounts of information about you and your health just by talking to you and looking at your general appearance. Is your memory and mental quickness good? Does your skin appear healthy? How easily can you stand and walk?

By listening to your heart, a doctor might detect an irregular heartbeat, heart murmur or other indications of heart disease.

Using a stethoscope a doctor can listen for crackles, wheezes, decreased breath sounds and other clues to the presence of lung disease.

Opening up and saying "ah" will show your throat and tonsils to the doctor. The appearance of your gums and teeth will also provide information about your health. Examination of your ears, nose, sinuses, eyes, lymph nodes and thyroid will also provide information.

A range of abdominal examination techniques can be used to detect liver size, presence of abdominal fluid, bowel sounds and tenderness.

Reflexes, muscle strength, balance and mental state may be assessed with a neurological exam.

Looking at your skin and nails can indicate a dermatological problem or disease.

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.

Physical exams for men and women may include different tests. For example, men may have hernia or prostate exams, where women may have breast exams or Pap tests.

Your doctor may order laboratory tests for  blood count, urinalysis and cholesterol.

Do You Need An Annual Physical Exam?

Physicals should emphasize prevention. The annual physical exam is a great opportunity to refocus your attention on prevention and screening. Healthy behaviors work far better than medicine at preventing illness and don't require a prescription. Exercising, keeping a healthy weight and not smoking will keep many of us in good health. Still, no one can argue with keeping up a good relationship with your doctor through regular visits so you and your doctor can pay attention to prevention and your overall health.
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