When you’re feeling well, visiting a doctor isn’t something you usually think about, but it can be very beneficial. Annual physical exams were once a regular practice for most adults, but over time they have become less common, sometimes to the detriment of our health.
In this post, we’ll discuss what a physical exam is, why they’re important to maintain, what to expect when you go for one and who should have them. We’ll also tell you where to make an appointment if you or a family member is due (or overdue) for an annual exam.
What is an annual physical exam?
An annual physical exam is an appointment you have with your primary care doctor that gives you the opportunity to ask questions about anything that may concern you about your current physical health and to undergo a variety of routine tests to make sure all is well.
It’s also a great time to update your medical team about any lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking or losing weight), provide any new information you may have about your medical history and discuss any external factors (work stress, addiction, family trouble, sleep issues) that may currently affect your health.
What are the benefits of an annual checkup?
Seeing your doctor each year helps them create an overall wellness plan for you and recognize patterns in your health that can help detect and diagnose issues faster than someone who has never treated you. In addition, a certain trust is established through repeat visits so there’s less anxiety about sharing sometimes very personal information about your body with your doctor. In addition, when you have appointments that regularly, there is less likelihood of missing signs of serious illness or progressive conditions.
What should I expect at an annual physical exam?
Each physical exam is tailored to the individual, but there are some common things you can expect each time you go for yours:
Weight and Height
You will be weighed and in some cases also measured for height at each appointment.
At the start of the appointment, you will have a cuff placed on your arm and a blood pressure test conducted. Recording this, and also taking your temperature, provides a good baseline for your overall wellness.
Visual and Physical Inspections
Your eyes, ears, throat, back, abdomen and skin are usually checked by touch for any potential issues. The doctor may also use a stethoscope to have you breathe and listen for any lung crackles or wheezes.
Depending on your age group, if you are due for any seasonal or booster shots, your doctor may administer this during the exam.
If you are due for blood tests, a colonoscopy, a mammogram (for women), prostate screening (for men), a urine test or bone density screening, your doctor will schedule these for you at that time (sometimes if a lab is on-site, the blood and urine tests may happen that same day).
In addition to asking about any physical issues, your doctor will also ask if you’re suffering from any mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or mood swings. If experiencing issues, they will provide guidance on potential treatments and support resources.
Your doctor will review what medications and supplements you’re currently taking and renew or prescribe new prescriptions for you, based on their findings.
You may receive guidance from your doctor about how to manage or avoid certain conditions that could arise in the future.
Who should get a yearly physical?
It’s recommended that anyone over 40 years of age or with pre-existing health conditions or a family history of thyroid disorders, cancer or heart disease should have a yearly exam. It’s also beneficial for athletes at any age.
Consult With a Medical Professional
If you’d like to schedule an annual physical, learn where to get a physical exam in your area or consult with Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice, complete the form on this page. For more general inquiries, complete this contact form.