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Getting the Most out of Your Physical Exam: How to Prepare

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Indeed, the key to good health is prevention. Waiting until symptoms emerge or worsen to address a health issue is not only more costly, but it puts you at greater risk of complications, disability, and even premature death. This is why annual physical exams are so important. They empower you and your doctor to catch any issues before they develop or get worse.

Purpose of a Physical Exam

A physical exam is an opportunity for you to discuss your current health status and any problems you might be having with your doctor. It’s also an ideal time to discuss your health goals for the year—perhaps you want to lose some weight or reduce the number of medications you take.

Physical Exam

What to Expect with a Physical Exam

Your doctor will ask you about any physical or emotional problems you might be experiencing and will take your medical history—this will involve asking you questions about your past medical history, your family medical history, how much you exercise, whether you use tobacco, what medications you take (over-the-counter and prescription), how much (if any) alcohol you consume, any food allergies you have, your vaccination status, and about your job (stress levels, workplace hazards, etc.).

A thorough physical exam typically includes:

· Listening to your heart and lungs with a medical device such as a stethoscope

· Assessing your pulse and blood pressure

· Examining your skin

· Palpitating your abdomen and lymph nodes

· Looking in your ears, eyes, and throat

· Testing your reflexes, including performing a neurological exam

Additionally, the doctor may have your blood drawn to test your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, vitamin levels, and other studies. Your doctor may have a urinalysis performed, and, based on any problems you may be having and/or your family history, your doctor may order additional blood work, x-rays, an MRI, andan EKG, or may test your lung function with a spirometer, among other possible tests.

How to Prepare for Your Physical

Healthcare professionals are busier than ever today—consider that doctors are often scheduled at 15-minute intervals .1 That means you may only have a handful of precious face-to-face minutes with your doc. Conversations about an overhaul of our ailing healthcare system aside, for now this is the reality, so it’s important to make the most out of the time you have with your doctor. How to do that? First and foremost, go into your visit prepared.

· Do Your Homework before Your Visit –Before your visit, review your own and your family’s medical history. To make it easier to fill out your medical history at the office, have the information written down,and bring it with you. Be sure to tell the doctor about immediate family members who have conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, as well as any potentially contagious conditions you have or to which you might have been exposed.

· Bring Some Essentials with You – Bring a pad and pen to take down any notes or instructions your doctor gives you. Writing things down is the best way to ensure you remember the information later. A lot of information can be exchanged during a doctor visit—don’t rely on your memory alone. You may also consider bringing a family member with you to your visit. It can feel reassuring and comforting to have a friend or family member by your side.

· Write Down All the Medications/Supplements You Take – This includes all over-the-counter and prescription medications, and any supplements you take and their dosages. Don’t exclude herbal preparations like St. John’s wort, as these can interfere with other medications and are important for your doctor to know about.

· Make a List of All Your Concerns/Worries/Questions in Advance – Perhaps you’re concerned that a mole could be cancerous, or that you’re having trouble reaching your weight loss goal. Making a list in advance of all the things that are worrying you, and questions you have,will help you remember to cover everything.

· Bring a List of Current and Past Health Care Providers – Provide the doctor with information about all the health care providers who are currently treating you or have treated you during the last few years, what they treated you for, and their phone numbers, so the doctor can coordinate your care. Also include alternative medicine providers, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists.

· Discuss Weight Management/Weight Loss Goals – If your BMI is too high or too low , talk to your doctor about a weight management plan. Overweight and obesity are fueling epidemics like diabetes and heart disease. Don’t put yourself at greater risk of developing these conditions—let your doctor help you find a weight-loss solution.

· Remember That Your Doctor Is a Professional –There are several topics that people often shy away from asking, but shouldn’t. Some of the most common are erectile dysfunction, painful sex (due to menopause, for example), and urinary incontinence. These are very personal issues, so it’s understandable that many feel reluctant talk about them, even with a doctor. Everyone has something that causes them embarrassment, but your doctor probably won’t feel the same way. He or she is a professional and is there to help you find a solution.

Medication

Spotlight on Well-Woman Exams

Women have special medical needs, from breast health to gynecological concerns. Well-woman visits are especially designed to address concerns specific to women. Generally scheduled annually or every other year, a well-woman visit may include:

· Breast exam (to check for irregular lumps/masses)

· Pap smear (to check for cancer and other gynecological problems)

· General health check-up

· Question/answer session about breast, gynecological, urinary system (such as urinary tract infections or urinary incontinence), and other problems or concerns

Following Up after Your Appointment

Your appointment may not end when you leave the doctor’s office. Your doctor may have you come in for a follow-up visit after having you start a new medication, for additional tests, or for another reason. If you haven’t heard from your doctor’s office within a timeframe given, call the office.

An annual physical exam is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. If it’s been more than 12 months since your last exam, make an appointment today!

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