Whenever you are about to celebrate another birthday, you should give yourself a very important gift— the gift of good health— by scheduling your annual physical exam.
No matter what your age, an annual physical exam is an important step in staying healthy. Its purpose is to detect any health issues you may have before they become serious and more difficult to treat.
Scheduling the exam around your birthday is a great way for you not to forget about it! If you have never had an annual physical or maybe let some years lapse between the last time, here is a quick look at what to expect from an annual exam.
Medical History – While you wait for the doctor to start the exam, you will be asked to fill out paperwork to outline your medical history. Here you will disclose any prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, supplements, or vitamins you are taking. You will list any changes to your or family members’ health, any diet or indulgence changes, sexual history, etc. This helps your doctor understand if there are any warning signs or causes for concern that have developed since the last visit. If this is your first visit, this will help establish a surface understanding of where you are at health-wise.
Vital Signs – Once you are called from the waiting room, a nurse or other qualified medical technician will check your heart rate (pulse), measure blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and temperature. These are all recorded, and your doctor will compare them against accepted standards/ranges, which can often indicate health problems like an infection or much more serious issues.
Heart and Lungs – The provider will use a stethoscope to check on your heart and lungs and listen to the heart rhythm and your breathing through the back and chest. Irregular heart rhythms, murmurs, or breathing sounds can be symptoms of underlying concerns.
Head, Neck, and Abdomen – Your doctor will gently press on parts of your head, neck, and abdomen to check for any sensitive areas or abnormalities in these regions. They may ask you to say “ah” and place a tongue depressor on your tongue so they can look inside your mouth and throat to check for anomalies. Lymph nodes, muscles, and organs are carefully checked out for common issues that can arise.
Neurological – Your reflexes will be tested to ensure that your nervous system is functioning correctly. The doctor will do this by gently tapping different joint locations with a small mallet. Especially with age, nervous system malfunctions can point to potentially severe conditions.
Blood Test – The doctor will order a complete bloodwork analysis to be done at the annual exam. This is done to check on things such as cholesterol, blood sugar, kidney/liver function, etc. These are compared to the numbers from the previous year and accepted standards.
Lifestyle – You will be asked about your alcohol and cigarette use and exercise habits. Your doctor will offer advice and tips to help you quit tobacco if you do use it. They may also discuss healthy eating habits if your weight is not in normal range.
Other things your doctor will review:
Your annual physical exam will also include your doctor talking to you about getting the COVID-19 vaccine if you have not already done so. They will also check to see if you are up-to-date on other vaccines, including your yearly flu shot.
If you are over 50, your doctor will discuss the importance of a colon cancer screening. They can refer you to a specialist and write an order for the test.
If you are a woman aged 40 or older, your doctor will discuss the need for several important screenings and evaluations, including:
- Age 40+, pap smears to test for cervical cancer
- Age 45+, mammogram screening for breast cancer
The doctor can provide orders for any of these tests and provide referrals if needed.
It is important that you are honest with your doctor, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it is. The relationship between you and your doctor is strictly confidential, whether you are at a primary care doctor or an urgent care. Providing detailed information to the questions asked by the provider during a physical exam will allow them to provide an early diagnosis for certain conditions and prescribe proper treatment.
You may not realize it, but you do not need to go to a primary care physician (PCP) to have an annual physical. Most PCPs are booked up and their hours are not always accommodating. At American Family Care (AFC), you do not need an appointment for an annual exam. You can walk right in. Our clinics have extended morning, evening, and weekend hours to better fit your schedule.
Unlike some PCP offices, our clinics also provide lab work on-site so there is no need for you to make a second appointment at an outside lab to get your bloodwork completed. We also take insurance. If you do not have insurance, no problem. We have cost-effective self-pay options too.