Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let's Get a Physical, Physical...Every Year!

No,  I am not talking about the Olivia-Newton John song. Though it is the hit TV show Glee's reincarnation of the song and music video (check out the video  if you haven't seen it. It's a riot!) that not only brought back some horrible memories of fashion and hair style choices from my youth (I digress), but got me thinking about the importance of getting an annual physical exam every year. The connections I make sometimes scare me...that's supposed to be a joke. :)
No really, it's just as important as your OBGYN exam and your kids check-ups!

What's supposed to happen at an annual physical exam and why is it important you ask? 

Here's the low down.

The physical exam is a head to toe, inside and out, examination of the body looking for signs of disease. Most health insurance policies usually cover an annual physical exam. Now, don't confuse this with your annual pap smear (which you should also be getting done!), even though some doctors will do both exams at the same time.

First you fill out a sheet that asks you a whole lot of questions about your medical history.  

Side note:  A good way to save time,  is to get the forms you need to fill out ahead of time. A lot of doctors offices now-a-days have the forms available in electronic format to download. If your doesn't, allow yourself a extra time before the appointment to accurately, honestly, and to the best of your knowledge fill out the forms. The information is confidential.  Remember, the more information you can give the doctor the better they can help you.   

Second, a nurse checks your height, weight, blood pressure.

Third, the doctor discusses the information you provide in the medical history with you.  Then the doctor physically checks the body, poking and prodding, looking and hearing, for things that seem out of the ordinary.  They check ears, eyes, nose, and throat. They'll listen to your heart and lungs. The doctor will check your reflexes.They'll look at your skin for signs of skin cancer.You usually need to provide a urine sample and get blood work done as well (sometimes in office or you go to a special lab such as Quest or Lab Corp, depending on how your health insurance works).  Some doctors will even do a breast and pelvis exam.

Here's what the doctor is looking for (I pulled this off of Web MD):

History. This is your chance to mention any complaints or concerns about your health. Your doctor will also likely quiz you about important behaviors, like smoking, excessive alcohol use, sexual health, diet, and exercise, The doctor will also check on your vaccination status and update your personal and family medical history. 

Side Note: Know your family medical history.  Prevention. prevention is the key here. A great resource for a Family Medical History Tree to print and fill out is provided by the American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign. You can read it from this blog (look to your right)

Vital Signs. These are some vital signs checked by your doctor:
  • Blood pressure: less than 120 over 80 is a normal blood pressure. Doctors define high blood pressure (hypertension) as 140 over 90 or higher.
  • Heart rate: Values between 60 and 100 are considered normal. Many healthy people have heart rates slower than 60, however.
  • Respiration rate: Around 16 is normal. Breathing more than 20 times per minute can suggest heart or lung problems.
  • Temperature: 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the average, but healthy people can have resting temperatures slightly higher or lower.
General Appearance. Your doctor gathers a large amount of information about you and your health just by watching and talking to you. How is your memory and mental quickness? Does your skin appear healthy? Can you easily stand and walk?

Heart Exam. Listening to your heart with a stethoscope, a doctor might detect an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur, or other clues to heart disease.

Lung Exam. Using a stethoscope, a doctor listens for crackles, wheezes, or decreased breath sounds. These and other sounds are clues to the presence of heart or lung disease.

Head and Neck Exam. Opening up and saying "ah" shows off your throat and tonsils. The quality of your teeth and gums also provides information about your overall health. Ears, nose, sinuses, eyes, lymph nodes, thyroid, and carotid arteries are also examined.

Abdominal Exam. Your doctor can use a range of examination techniques including tapping your abdomen to detect liver size and presence of abdominal fluid, listening for bowel sounds with a stethoscope, and palpating for tenderness.

Neurological Exam. Nerves, muscle strength, reflexes, balance, and mental state are assessed.

Dermatological Exam. Skin and nail findings could indicate a dermatological problem or disease somewhere else in the body.

Extremities Exam. Your doctor will look for physical and sensory changes. Pulses can be checked in your arms and legs. Examining joints can assess for abnormalities.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. I know it's cliche, but no question is a stupid question. 

Side Note: If your anything like me, after a thirty minute wait in the waiting room, often times with a preschooler in tow, my mind is fried and I am frazzled by the time I get talking with the doctor. That is why I try to write my questions down ahead of time. That way I make sure every thing gets covered that I want covered. Check out The Questions to Ask Your Doctor  pamphlet provided by AHA Go Red for Women campaign (look to your right).

 I hope I have convinced ya. Go get a Physical. Do it for yourself and your family (there's some guilt for ya!). Here's to your good health!

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