What is the physical exam?
A physical exam is a routine test done by your primary care provider (PCP) to check your general health. A PCP can be a doctor, nurse, or physician assistant. The exam is also called a wellness check. You do not 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 you have noticed.
Different tests can be done during your physical exam. Depending on your age or medical or family history, your PCP may recommend additional tests. This test is done by a nutritionist.
Purpose of a physical exam
A physical exam helps your PCP determine your general health. The exam also allows you to talk with them about any ongoing pain or symptoms you are experiencing or any other health problems you may have.
A physical exam is recommended at least once a year, especially in people over the age of 50. These tests are used to:
- Check for possible illnesses so they can be treated early
- Identify any problems that may become medical concerns in the future
- Update needed vaccines
- Make sure you preserve a healthy diet and exercise routine
- Build a relationship with your PCP
Make your selection with the PCP of your choice. If you have a family PCP, they can give you a physical exam. If you do not already have a PCP, you can contact your health insurance for a list of providers in your area.
Proper preparation for your physical exam can help you make the most of your time with your PCP. You must gather the following documentation before your physical exam:
- List of medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter and herbal supplements
- List of any symptoms or pain you are feeling
- Results of any recent or relevant tests
- Medical and surgical history
- Names and contact information for other doctors you have seen recently
- If you have an implanted device, such as a pacemaker or defibrillator, bring a copy of the front and back of the device card.
- Any additional questions you would like answered
- You may want to dress in comfortable clothing and avoid excessive jewellery, makeup, or other things that prevent your PCP from fully examining your body.
What to expect
Health professionals typically carry out a physical examination in their office or a dedicated room at a medical clinic or hospital.
The doctor or nurse needs to make sure that the person is comfortable during a physical exam. The American Medical Association requires clinics to provide an escort upon request and to allow individuals to bring a friend or family member into the exam room.
Usually, the healthcare professional will also take a medical history before moving on to the physical exam. Medical history is a record of the person’s current symptoms, as well as any risk factors and previous medical problems that may be relevant.
The doctor or nurse may ask about:
- Past and current illnesses or medical conditions
- Previous medical procedures or operations
- Past vaccinations
- Any medications, vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies the person is currently taking
- Current signs and symptoms
- Lifestyle information, such as diet and exercise habits, tobacco and alcohol use, and sexual and reproductive history
- Family history of health problems or illnesses
Exactly what the physical exam entails will depend on the reason for the test, but in general, it may include:
- Height and weight measurements
- Examination of the nose, mouth, throat, and ear with a flashlight or endoscope
- Palpation of the pulse in the person’s neck, groin, or feet
- Check body reflexes
- Attending to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope
- Measure blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer
- Feel the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
- Palpate the abdomen for abnormalities
For infants and young children, a physical exam may include:
- Ask questions about their development and growth
- Measuring the circumference of your head
- Check they’re fine motor development, such as asking them to pick up small items or tie their shoelaces
- Check their gross motor development, which may include asking them to walk, climb stairs, or jump
- Looking into the mouth, eyes, and ears
- Listening to the chest
- Check the health of the genitals
- Hitting knees to check reflexes
- Examining feet
Sometimes people undergo physical exams to detect a particular health problem or condition. In these cases, the healthcare professional can perform specific tests in addition to or instead of the above. We discuss some of these specific tests below.
Doctors recommend regular skin exams to look for suspicious growths, moles, or other changes that could be a sign of skin cancer. These tests are particularly important for people with risk factors for skin cancer, such as those with a family history of the condition.
A physician may include a skin exam as a share of a routine checkup. The exam usually involves the doctor looking at the person’s skin from head to toe.
The term annual physical examination has been replaced in most health care circles by periodic medical examination. The frequency with which it is performed depends on factors such as age, sex, and the presence of risk factors for disease in the person examined. Health professionals often use guidelines that have been developed by organizations such as the United States Preventive Services Task Force. Governments such as the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association, which promote the detection and prevention of specific diseases, generally recommend more intensive or frequent tests or suggest that tests focus on particular organ systems in the body.
Comprehensive physical exams deliver opportunities for healthcare professionals to obtain baseline information about persons that may be helpful in the future. They also allow healthcare providers to build relationships before problems arise. Physical exams are appropriate times to answer questions and teach good health practices. Finding and addressing problems in their early stages can have beneficial long-term results.
All people should have regular physical exams. These occur frequently (monthly at first) in infants and gradually reach a frequency of once a year for adolescents and adults.
Once a physical exam has been completed, the person being examined and the examiner should review what lab tests have been well-ordered, why they have been selected, and how and with whom the results will be shared. A healthcare professional should discuss any recommendations for treatment and follow-up visits. Special instructions must be put in writing. This is also an opportunity for people to ask the remaining questions about their own health problems.
There are virtually no risks associated with a physical exam. Complications with the physical exam process are rare. Occasionally, useful information or data may be overlooked. Most commonly, associated laboratory test results force physicians to re-examine an individual or to re-examine parts of the body already examined. In a sense, complications can arise from the findings of a physical examination. These usually trigger further investigations or initiate treatment. They are actually more beneficial than negative, as they often initiate a process of treatment and recovery.
Importance of regular physical exam
Regular health examinations and tests can help find problems before they start. They can also help you find problems early when your chances of treatment and cure are best. By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you’re taking steps that improve your chances of living a longer, healthier life. Your age, health and family history, lifestyle choices (ie what you eat, how active you are, whether you smoke), and other important factors influence what and how often you need medical care.
Tell your doctor about any medical conditions or illnesses in your family. It is no secret that certain diseases and medical conditions can be inherited; however, families also transmit life habits. People who live together, play together and eat together affect each other’s attitudes toward smoking, exercise, weight, and a host of other factors that affect our health.
Health tests, screenings, and vaccinations.
The need for sure health exams, tests, and vaccinations may be founded on your age, general health, family history, and lifestyle. Ask your Medical Center healthcare provider if it’s time to get vaccinated or get tested. Some tests have certain requirements to be effective. Having this information ahead of time can help reduce the number of trips to the doctor’s office and make sure you get the most out of each visit.
Make a list
Make a list of existing health problems and write down any changes:
- Have you noticed any changes to your body, including lumps or skin changes?
- Do you have pain, dizziness, fatigue, digestive, or urinary tract problems?
- Have your eating habits changed?
- Do you have signs of depression, anxiety, trauma, or distress?
- Do you have problems sleeping?
Write down a list of changes in your health or habits so you don’t forget them. Notice how it differs from before when the change occurred, and any other observations you think might be helpful. Also, take notes on what your provider recommends.
- Hands wearing a blood pressure cuff
- Set healthy goals
What specific health problems do you need to notice?
Rational about losing weight, quitting smoking, or having another child? Set goals to improve your health and lifestyle. Discuss these issues and any health goals with your healthcare provider so that you can make the best decisions and plans regarding your health and safety.