What Happens During a Physical?

It is highly recommended to have a physical examination done regularly. So many health problems can successfully be treated when caught early, which greatly enhances the value of the routine physical exam. Some people understand its importance but know little about what happens during this exam, which keeps them from going any further. 

What Happens During a Physical?

An average physical usually has a number of components. You will be asked about your medical history and your doctor will also check your vital signs along with performing other tests. Here are some more details:

1. Medical History

The first step is to explain your medical history. You can share any concerns or complaints you may have about your health. Your doctor is also going to ask some questions regarding certain lifestyle behaviors, such as excessive drinking, smoking, diet, sexual health, and activity level. They are also likely to ask about your vaccination status.

2. Vital Signs

During a physical, your doctor will check your vital signs as well. They will check the following:

  • Blood Pressure: Your blood pressure is normal if it is less than 120 over 80; you have hypertension if your reading is 140 over 90 or higher.
  • Heart Rate: Your heart rate is normal if it is anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
  • Respiration Rate: You are considered healthy if you have 12 to 16 breaths per minute. Over 20 breaths per minute may indicate lung or heart problems.
  • Temperature: The average body temperature is 98.6 Fahrenheit, but it is possible to have a temperature slightly lower or higher than this without any underlying medical problem.

3. General Appearance

Along with checking your vital signs and getting information about your medical history, your doctor is also going to check your overall appearance. They can tell a lot about your mental quickness and memory just by talking to you. Similarly, a closer look at your nails and skin can reveal a lot about your general health.

4. Heart Exam

What happens during a physical? During a physical, your doctor will also use a stethoscope to perform a heart exam. This helps the doctor detect a heart murmur, an irregular heartbeat, or other problems related to your cardiovascular system.

5. Lung Exam

During a lung exam, your doctor uses a stethoscope and listens for wheezes, crackles, or decreased breath sounds. This helps the doctor detect any lung problems.

6. Head and Neck Exam

This involves checking the condition of tonsils, teeth, throat, and gums to get more information about your overall health. During head and neck exam, your doctor is also likely to examine your thyroid, lymph nodes, sinuses, nose, ears, eyes, and carotid arteries.

7. Abdominal Exam

During your abdominal exam, your doctor may use different techniques. He or she may use a stethoscope to notice any bowel sounds. The doctor may also tap your abdomen to detect presence of abdominal fluid or check liver size.

8. Neurological Exam

Your doctor is likely to perform a neurological exam during a physical. It involves assessing the health of your muscles, nerves, and brain. He or she also checks your reflexes, muscle strength, and overall mental state using different techniques.

9. Extremities Exam

The purpose of this exam is to look for any possible sensory and physical changes to the extremities. Your doctor may examine your joints and check pulses in your legs and arms.

10. Cholesterol Test

Your doctor is likely to check your cholesterol during a physical if you are over 45. They may start checking your cholesterol levels when you are only 20 if you have a genetic predisposition for heart disease or diabetes.

11. Male and Female Physical Tests

What happens during a physical? There are certain components exclusive to male or female physical exam. For instance:

Male Physical Exam

  • Testicular Exam: Your doctor may check each testicle for tenderness, lumps, or changes in size.
  • Hernia Exam: Your doctor may ask you to simply turn your head and cough to detect any weakness in the abdominal wall between your scrotum and intestines.
  • Penis Exam: Your doctor examines your penis to look for any signs of sexually transmitted infections, such as ulcers or warts.
  • Prostate Exam: Your doctor will insert a finger in your rectum to check the size of the prostate.

Female Physical Exam

  • Breast Exam: Your doctor examines your breasts and looks for any signs of breast cancer or other benign breast conditions. They also pay attention to the condition of the lymph nodes in your underarm area.
  • Pelvic Exam: During a pelvic exam, your doctor examines the vagina, vulva, and cervix. They also check you for sexually transmitted infections and diseases. They may also ask for a Pap test or HPV test to screen you for cervical cancer.

11. Laboratory Tests

While no standard lab tests are included in an annual physical, your doctor may order some considering your overall health. Some doctors may order some tests more commonly such as chemistry panel, complete blood count, and urinalysis (UA).

How Often Should You Get a Physical?

It is also important to ensure that you get a physical after regular intervals. Ideally, you should undergo a physical exam every five years if you are over 18. Once you turn 40, you should go for a physical every 1-3 years. When you are over 40, a physical exam usually just helps identify any signs and symptoms that would highlight the need for other tests.

How to Prepare for a Physical Examination

Knowing what happens during a physical really helps you prepare in advance. First, make an appointment with your doctor. You should wear comfortable clothes and avoid makeup, jewelry or other things that may make it difficult for your doctor to complete a physical. It is a good idea to keep specific documents ready before you go for your physical. For instance:

  • Keep a list of any medications you may be taking, including supplements and OTC drugs.
  • Make a list of any symptoms you may be experiencing.
  • Take the results from any relevant tests with you.
  • Tell the doctor your surgical and medical history.
  • Make a list of any doctors you may have visited in the past.
  • Keep a copy of your implanted devices, such as a defibrillator or pacemaker.

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