A physical exam is a routine test in which your doctor examines key physical health indicators to determine your medical needs. Some things that are performed during the physical include weight, blood pressure, temperature, heartbeat, as well as checking your ears, nose, lungs, throat, and eyes. A pap smear in women or a genital exam in men may also be performed to assess their different risk factors.
While it may seem simple, physical exams are a crucial tool for doctors to use for medical diagnosis. Physicals provide an important preventative measure to help you and your care provider stay aware of your health status and possibly detect serious conditions such as cancer, diabetes or illness. According to the American Journal of Medicine, improper and missed physical exams are a significant source of medical errors and adverse health effects.
What to Expect at a Physical
Healthcare providers typically carry out a physical exam in their office or in a dedicated room, beginning with questions and measuring your vitals. Depending on your own personal health history and questions, your doctor may begin more specific exams. However, most physicals will consist of the following:
Blood Pressure: Doctors measure blood pressure as a sign of overall heart health. Anything 130 over 80 or higher is considered stage 1 high blood pressure, while normal pressure is below 120 over 80.
Heart Rate: Heart rates between 60 and 100 are normal. This gives a snapshot of how well the heart muscle is working and whether it’s working to fight off illness or infection.
Temperature: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the average body temperature, but healthy people can have resting temperatures slightly higher or lower. Anything above 100 could indicate fever caused by an infection or illness.
General Appearance: Your doctor will take a look at your physical appearance to learn more information, including skin health, eye movement and weight. They will also measure your memory and mental quickness by measuring your response to their questions.
Lungs: Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen for any alarming sounds coming from your lungs as you inhale and exhale.
Head: Open up and say “ah”. Your doctor will conduct a head exam that looks at your nose, sinuses, throat, tonsils, lymph nodes, thyroid and carotid arteries.
These baseline examinations will form the basis for any treatment recommendations. However, more specific physical exams may also be needed to address your medical needs. Physicals are also different according to sex.
A more in-depth physical for males is something that you may have on an annual basis. This type of checkup is important because it goes past the more basic physical exams and can help your doctor check for more serious conditions. Annual physical exams for men may include:
Testicular Exam: Your doctor will check each testicle for any lumps or tenderness. This examination is a useful screening measure for testicular cancer.
Hernia Exam: A doctor can feel for a hernia by using his or her fingers to examine the area around the groin and testicles. Your doctor may ask you to cough while pressing on or feeling the area.
Penis Exam: This examination helps determine if there is any evidence of sexually transmitted infections such as warts, ulcers, or blisters on the penis.
Prostate Exam: Men over the age of 50 are strongly advised to get screened for prostate cancer. Inserting a finger in the rectum lets a doctor feel the prostate for its size and any suspicious areas.
It’s also recommended that females get in-depth physicals on an annual basis. This type of checkup is important because it goes past the more basic physical exams and can help your doctor check for more serious conditions. Annual physical exams for women may include:
Breast Exam: Your doctor will feel for any abnormal lumps as well as check the lymph nodes under the arms
Pelvic Exam: A pelvic exam allows the doctor to examine the vagina, vulva, cervix, uterus, and ovaries for any abnormalities or infections. A pap test or an HPV test may also be conducted to help screen for cervical cancer.
While there is no doubt that exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and refraining from smoking are great ways to stay in good health, no one can argue that regular physical check-ups are hurtful. In fact, a physical examination can wind up helping your doctor catch a potentially life-threatening condition. If however, you feel uncomfortable with any part of a physical, you can refuse that exam, test or treatment. However, please understand that things cannot be picked up, if you do not have an exam or allow for an exam to be performed. Just be sure you fully understand the consequences of such a decision.
If you’d like to know more about physical exams, contact Valleywise Health today. Our primary care physicians are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to assist you.