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It can be called an annual physical exam, a general physical exam, or a wellness visit. This visit gives you a chance to connect with your health care provider, update your provider on your health, and plan for future preventive healthcare. Having a physical exam checklist is a good way to get the best out of this visit.
What to Do Before Your Physical
Write a list of questions you want to ask and prepare for questions your health care provider may ask you:
- Have any diagnostic tests that your provider has ordered done before your visit, so you can go over the results together.
- Let your health care provider know about any changes in your medications, including supplements, or herbal medications.
- Make a list of any changes since your last visit including new symptoms, procedures, accidents, or illness.
What to Expect From Your Health Care Provider
Your visit will probably start with a review of all that has happened since your last visit. This is called the history part of a history and physical exam. It may include questions about your family history, your diet, how much exercise you get, your mental health, and your use of alcohol or tobacco. If you are over age 65, you may be asked if you have had any falls or any problems with thinking, memory, vision, or hearing.
Expect your provider to check your vital signs, height, and weight, including your pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen level. You may have a head-to-toe physical exam. As your provider does the exam, you may be asked questions about signs or symptoms related to each body part. For example, as your provider listens to your lungs, you may be asked if you have been coughing or short of breath. During the physical exam your provider may:
- Listen to your heart and lungs
- Check your ears, nose, and throat
- Listen to blood flow in your neck vessels
- Check your body for swollen lymph nodes
- Examine your skin
- Feel your belly for any tenderness or liver enlargement
- Do a breast exam for women
- Do a testicle exam for men
- Do a rectal exam to check the prostate for men ages of 50 to 70
- Do a cervical cancer exam for women over age 21
- Check the pulses in your feet
- Look for any signs of fluid retention or swelling in your feet or ankles
- Check your muscle reflexes
A Checklist for Blood Tests, Vaccines, and Other Studies
Many of these will depend on your age and history. You should ask your doctor about these blood tests and studies:
- Cholesterol blood testing
- Blood sugar testing for diabetes
- PSA blood testing for men ages 55 to 69
- A blood test for hepatitis C, done at least once after age 18
- Sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing for people who are sexually active
- Yearly mammogram for women after age 40
- Colon and rectal cancer testing after age 45
- Lung cancer imaging for people with a history of heavy smoking
- Osteoporosis testing for women after age 50 and for men after age 70
- An imaging study of the abdomen to rule out abdominal aneurism after age 65
Ask what vaccines you need, including:
- Flu shot
- COVID vaccine
- HPV vaccine for young adults
- Vaccines for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and diphtheria-tetanus (Tdap) depending on your vaccine history
- Pneumonia vaccine
- The shingles vaccine after age 50
Everyone’s physical exam is different depending on your health, your age, your history, and your health care provider. A good wellness exam should help you develop a relationship with your health care provider, get your questions answered, update your medicines and vaccinations, schedule important tests, and develop a plan for your health goals. Finally, don’t forget to make your next appointment.