What is a Physical Examination?
An annual physical exam is used to check your overall health and make sure you don’t have any medical problems that you are unaware of.
Make sure to tell your Primary Care Provider about any medications you are currently taking or have in the past. It’s helpful to prepare for the appointment by gathering any documents relating to your medical history.
This is your chance to talk about any problems or symptoms you are experiencing and get professional advice from your PCP. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions.
An annual 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
An annual 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. These exams are used to:
check for possible diseases so they can be treated early
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.
Preparation for Physical Examination
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 experiencing
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 card
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.
What Happens in the Physical Exam?
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.