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What is a physical exam?

A physical exam is an important part of doctor visits – whether you’re being seen for an illness or injury or whether you’re there for an annual exam or wellness visit. Doctors can learn a lot by listening to their patients, but a physical exam is a good way for a doctor to evaluate their patient’s general health.

Physical exams are an integral part of an annual exam. They involve your doctor looking at you, both with the naked eye and through magnifying tools, and touching you to evaluate different aspects of your health. Most of the time, these exams are done by primary care physicians.

A physical exam given during a wellness visit or annual check-up will usually involve the following parts:

  • Checking vital signs, such as blood pressure, breathing rate, temperature, blood oxygenation, and heart rate
  • Evaluating general appearance, like the condition of your skin, how you stand and walk, the condition of your hair and nails, and more
  • Listening to your lungs for signs of lung problems or disease, like asthma, pneumonia, or emphysema; these problems may include crackles, wheezes, and other abnormal breathing sounds
  • Performing a dermatologic exam to look for problems with the skin and nails
  • Examining the legs and arms for any physical abnormalities or changes
  • Examining your head and neck, including the eyes, ears, nose, throat, mouth, thyroid, lymph nodes, and arteries
  • Examining the abdomen for signs of disease; this part of the exam may involve palpating (touching and pressing on) the abdomen or listening to bowel sounds
  • Listening to your heart for signs of a heart murmur, irregular heartbeat, or additional signs of heart diseases or conditions
  • Testing neurological health, including looking at nerves, reflexes, muscle strength, mental alertness, and balance

There are other parts of a physical exam that vary by gender. For example, doctors often perform exams of the testicles, penis, and prostate for men and the breasts and pelvis for women.

Lab Tests in Conjunction with Physical Exams

Your doctor may order lab tests to go along with your physical exams. Routine blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), cholesterol screening, and blood chemistry panel, can help your doctor get a more thorough picture of your overall health.

A Focus on Prevention

Physical exams, especially when part of annual wellness care, should focus on preventive care and screening for common conditions. Some of the recommended screenings that may accompany a physical exam are:

The Importance of Routine Physical Exams

Having annual physical exams is critical to maintaining your health. Your doctor can learn a lot about your general health by looking at you and examining your body for signs of disease. For example, your doctor may find that your thyroid is enlarged when palpating your neck, or he or she may come across a suspicious mole in a difficult to see spot when doing a skin check.

Physical exams are an important part of preventive care. Many serious illnesses will show outward signs before the patient feels any symptoms. For example, heart disease may be symptomless for years, but regularly elevated blood pressure numbers can be a clue that there is underlying heart disease like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Having regular physical exams with the same primary care provider helps your doctor get to know you, which makes it easier to identify changes early before they lead to life-threatening conditions.

How Often to Get a Physical Exam

Most doctors recommend that every person get at least one physical exam per year. These exams are frequently done in conjunction with a wellness visit or annual exam. If you have certain health risks or a personal or family history of some diseases, you may need to have a physical exam more frequently.

Children and adolescents in school may need sports physicals in addition to mandatory school physicals. Most schools require that all children who participate in sports have a sports physical every year.

Children’s Annual Exams

Doctors recommend that every child should get a physical exam every year. Most of the time, it’s pediatricians performing these exams, but family medicine doctors and, sometimes, internal medicine doctors who also specialize in pediatrics also offer annual well-child check-ups and physical exams.

Where to Get a Physical Exam

Any primary care doctor can perform an annual physical exam. That includes internal medicine and family medicine doctors, pediatricians, and doctors working at urgent care facilities.

Beaumont has many locations around Metro Detroit. Whether you’re looking for a new primary care doctor or you want to set up an appointment for an exam at an urgent care location, we can help. Call 248-965-1860 today to schedule your next physical exam.