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Physical Exam: Tests and Procedures to Expect

Table of Contents

This article is Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

African American doctor doing physical exam with older patient
African american therapist doctor explaining sickness diagnosis to senior retired woman patient discussing medication treatment during medical examination in hospital office. Healthcare service

Taking control of your health means doing what it takes to prevent any illness from developing. 

Keeping that in mind, it is recommended to schedule a physical examination or wellness checkup annually, especially if you are at risk for certain diseases. 

Physical exams assess your general health as a preventive measure. It’s different from any checkups prompted by symptoms since wellness visits are done even without indications of an illness yet. Likewise, it is classified as non-urgent but necessary.   

If you go to a physical exam, you can expect to undergo standard laboratory procedures ranging from urinalysis to various blood tests. Of course, these go together with other physiological assessments. 

The purpose of these tests is to determine any irregularities in your organ function and detect biomarkers of diseases. 

But as remarkable physical exams are, there are concerns about its necessity if you are already healthy in the first place. After all, the procedures are not exactly cheap and can be tedious.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that it remains an effective tool in taking charge of your health. So if you have the same concerns and more about physical exams, just read on to find the answers you need. 

What Is Included in the Annual Physical Examination? 

A physical exam includes basic health assessment procedures. You’ll probably spend half of your time in your PCP’s clinic and the other half in the lab to provide samples. 

Here’s what you can expect when getting a physical exam: 

  1. Medical Interview

Physical exams usually start with a medical interview wherein you supply crucial information about your health. 

For example, your PCP will most likely ask about hereditary diseases that run in your family. Moreover, you will also need to provide your medical history. 

Likewise, your height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate will also be measured. 

  1. Physical Assessment

Your doctor will also visually check your body parts like your skin, head, eyes, and abdomen for abnormalities. 

Likewise, your doctor will also evaluate your reflexes and motor functions using the appropriate tools. 

In some cases, your doctor may also examine your genital area depending on the results of the medical interview.  

  1. Blood Tests

Internal health information can be best acquired through laboratory tests. These include complete blood count (CBC), complete metabolic panel, lipid panel, TSH test, glucose test, and urinalysis

But if you want to have all these tests in a single bundle, you can always go for a  Wellness Checkup test package here at Personalabs. 

On the other hand, you can also get comprehensive packages that include tests for men and women like the Men’s Wellness Check and Women’s Wellness Check

These specific packages include tests for health conditions and biological processes common to the said cohorts. For example, the Women’s Wellness Check has blood tests for reproductive and thyroid hormones that help determine menopausal and premenopausal stages. 

  1. Other Medical Tests

Your doctor could also include other medical exams specific for conditions common among your age group or sex. These procedures are sometimes optional but highly recommended, especially if you exhibit related symptoms of the illness they screen. 

Female

Mammography: This procedure uses a digital mammogram machine to detect lumps that could be breast cancer. It is recommended that women 50 years and above go through a mammography every two years.

Pap smear: Also known as a Pap test, this test screens for cervical cancer and HPV. The frequency of taking this procedure varies based on age and risk. Therefore, it’s best to consult your doctor.

Pelvic exam: This is a general procedure wherein your PCP examines your vulva, vagina, and cervix for unusual growth and signs of sexually transmitted infection (STI). 

Osteoporosis screening: For women aged above 50, a bone density screening is beneficial to assess any histological symptoms of osteoporosis. 

Male

Digital rectal exam: This procedure allows your doctor to test for prostate cancer. It is recommended, especially when men turn 50. 

Testicular exam: Your doctor will sometimes check your testicles for lumps or unusual growth. This is standard screening for conditions like testicular cancer. 

What Should You Do Before a Physical Exam? 

Doctor checking young lady doing annual lab check up
Male doctor measuring pulse of young female patient in clinic. Woman on medical examination in hospital. Therapist checking heart rate

Since a physical exam is a routine procedure, some people would assume that they could just casually walk into your doctor’s office and get the exam done. 

However, if you want a successful wellness checkup, you must prepare beforehand. Check the following tips to make your physical exam smoother and faster.

  1. Schedule an appointment ahead.

Contact your PCP and inform the clinic that you’re getting a physical exam. Walk-ins are usually prohibited due to the nature of the assessment. Plus, you will need to gather some vital information for the first part of the physical exam.   

  1. Bring a list of your medications and family history of diseases.

It would be easier if you already had a list of prescribed and over-the-counter medications before your appointment. 

Also, if this is your first physical exam, prepare information on your family history of diseases, as this will come up during the interview. 

  1. Fast for 12 hours before the physical exam.

Most physical exams include blood tests that require fasting. You could verify this with your PCP. Nonetheless, it is standard, especially if metabolic diseases like diabetes are screened. 

  1. Avoid drinking alcohol for 24 hours before your appointment.

Aside from fasting, stir away from drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can potentially alter the reactions of your tests. Therefore, giving you false results. 

  1. Disclose any symptoms or previous illnesses you have.

If you have experienced infections from the past, it’s best to bring them up during your physical exam. Likewise, if there are symptoms or health issues you experienced recently or from before, don’t forget to mention them. 

Who Should Get a Physical Exam? 

People aged 40 and above are encouraged to undergo an annual physical exam. The same goes for those at risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. In some cases, a physical exam or wellness checkup is mandatory for these groups. 

On the other hand, a physical exam is regarded as an option rather than an obligation, especially for healthy individuals.

Although there are instances wherein these procedures become mandatory, such as the ones imposed by employers, if it’s up to personal choice, some people will opt not to take a physical exam for various reasons.

According to a study conducted by the Yale School of Medicine, one factor affecting patients’ preference for physical exams is the self-perception of their health. Likewise, it is also influenced by their relationship with their primary care provider. 

Nevertheless, many physicians still recommend getting a physical exam at least once every three years. This usually depends on your age. 

For example, if you are between 19 to 21, you should get a wellness checkup once every 2 to 3 years. If you are aged 22 to 39, you can maintain the same schedule, but it is also encouraged to take a physical exam once a year. 

What Are the Benefits of a Physical Exam? 

I hope that your pressure will be in norm

While living a healthy lifestyle is an effective way to prevent health issues, you can strengthen your health even more, when undergoing a regular physical exam. 

As a preventive tool against illnesses, physicians communicate the bigger picture and long-term benefits of physical exams encompassing the following. 

  1. Detect Diseases Early

Diseases, especially chronic ones, can be tricky. You may appear healthy, but your organs are already going through small but significant dysfunctions. 

For instance, you may have already developed prediabetes, wherein your blood sugar levels increase but are not high enough to be classified as diabetes yet. 

Detecting prediabetes at its onset allows you to reverse the condition and prevent its progression to diabetes. 

  1. Get Better Chances During Treatment and Recovery

When medical conditions are detected at their onset, you have increased chances of getting better treatment and faster recovery. 

Chronic diseases usually take a long time to develop. In the later stages, they become too complicated, not to mention too expensive, to cure. Therefore, catching the condition before the physical symptoms appear makes it more possible to regain your health quickly. 

  1. Monitor Your Health

Taking control of your health is the very core of a physical exam. For example, suppose you have access to information about your cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and susceptibility to a particular disease. In that case, you can work out a plan to ensure that you remain healthy. 

  1. Update Your Immunization

A physical exam is a perfect avenue to catch up with vaccines you’ve missed. Immunization has been proven to minimize your risks or at least the severe effects of various diseases like flu, measles, tetanus toxoid, and HPV. 

  1. Reduce Medical Expenses

The phrase “prevention is better than cure” has been tossed around whenever health is discussed. However, its meaning is not lost and should be taken seriously not just for the physiological advantage but also for your financial safety. 

Say a particular disease is detected early. The treatment is usually relatively simpler with less cost. But if it is already at its gravest stage, you can expect a more expensive, elaborate, and often lengthy treatment that could drain your bank account. 

  1. Create a Better Partnership With Your Primary Care Provider

A therapeutic alliance between you and your PCP is always good for your health. By simply going to your routine physical exam, you get to build a good relationship with your physician. With that, you will better grasp your health and have easier access to consultation. 

The Bottom Line

No one can deny that an annual physical exam or wellness checkup is an effective tool to ensure good health. 

In many cases, health conditions are caught ahead and treated before taking for the worst. 

So, if you want to take charge of your body’s wellness, schedule your next physical exam, and get vital information about your health status. What you gain from the procedure will help you with your health choices in the months to come. 

Medically Approved By Dr. Edward Salko, MD

Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.

Dr. Salko’s career has specialized in family and emergency medicine. His passion is to provide clients with the tools they need in the most convenient way possible to allow them to take charge of their own healthcare. He has held a variety of positions in Kansas, Florida and Washington. Currently, in addition to his duties as Medical Director for Personalabs, he is a practicing emergency physician in Kennewick, Washington.

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