The physical exam is an essential part of any doctor's visit. Surprisingly, though, there are no absolutes in a routine physical. A good doctor may be thorough or brief, but he or she will spend time listening to your concerns and providing counseling for your particular needs.
Annual exams usually check your:
History. This is your chance to mention any complaints or concerns about your health. Your doctor will also 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.
Vital Signs: These are some vital signs checked by your doctor:
General Appearance: Your doctor gathers a large amount of information about you and your health just by watching and talking to you. How is your memory and mental quickness? Does your skin appear healthy? Can you easily stand and walk?
Heart Exam: Listening to your heart with a stethoscope, a doctor might detect an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur, or other clues to heart disease.
Lung Exam: Using a stethoscope, a doctor listens for crackles, wheezes, or decreased breath sounds. These and other sounds are clues to the presence of heart or lung disease.
Head and Neck Exam : Opening up and saying "ah" shows off your throat and tonsils. The quality of your teeth and gums also provides information about your overall health. Ears, nose, sinuses, eyes, lymph nodes, thyroid, and carotid arteries may also be examined.
Abdominal Exam: Your doctor can use a range of examination techniques including tapping your abdomen to detect liver size and presence of abdominal fluid, listening for bowel sounds with a stethoscope, and palpating for tenderness.
Neurological Exam: Nerves, muscle strength, reflexes, balance, and mental state may be assessed.
Dermatological Exam: Skin and nail findings could indicate a dermatological problem or disease somewhere else in the body.
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.
An annual physical exam for men might also include:
A woman's annual exam might include:
There are no standard laboratory tests during an annual physical. However, some doctors will order certain tests routinely:
Unless symptoms already suggest a problem, however, these tests are unlikely to provide useful information.
A screening lipid panel (cholesterol test) is recommended every 4 to 6 years, according to the American Heart Association. Your doctor might check more frequently if you have risk factors for heart disease. Abnormal cholesterol levels increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
If you are overweight or have any risk factors for diabetes, your blood sugar will likely be checked. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all adults, beginning at age 45, should be tested for diabetes -- regardless of weight.
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: