The past few years have been anything but routine. Across the globe, the pandemic has forced people to delay or cancel certain everyday, ordinary parts of their life in order to keep everyone safe. While it sucks putting off seeing family or attending fun events, one routine task you should not be putting off is your annual medical exam, also called a “check up” or “physical.” It might seem like a minor inconvenience that always seems to sneak up when you least want to go, but there’s plenty of reasons you should always make time. You never know when one visit could potentially save your life.
One huge reason you shouldn’t skip these annual exams is that your physician needs to know what’s “normal” for your health. A main goal of the annual exam is to assess your current mental and physical state and levels. This baseline is usually established through a combined number of factors, such as family history, medical history, and your social environment. One example is that you might typically have a lower or higher than average base temperature for your body. If you never get examined, a doctor might think this abnormal which could lead to misdiagnosis.
As you get older, your physician will probably do some “screenings,” which are medical tests for diseases before you’re showing any symptoms. Some common screenings include blood tests for high cholesterol or high blood pressure, bone density tests, breast/cervical cancer, colon cancer, osteoporosis, the list goes on.
These screenings allow physicians to catch serious problems before you’re aware anything’s wrong. If you skipped this exam, you might not know until it’s almost too late. All of these measures are designed and taken into account to prevent health problems, or catch them early on enough before they get too serious.
Review Medications and Immunization Records
Whether you’re already on medication or think you probably need some, both are excellent reasons to go to that medical exam. You might find your current medication isn’t working or the side effects aren’t worth it, and they can prescribe a better one. Or in some cases you might just not need any medication anymore. Either way, only a medical physician can let you know for sure.
Another reason to go is to stay up to date on vaccinations/immunizations. If you don’t go to the doctor that much, it’s easy to forget what you’re caught up on and what you’re due for. There’s annual shots, like for the flu, or ones that you get every 10 years like the Tdap vaccine, which prevents whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus.
What to Expect at an Annual Medical Examinations
Most people have been going to the doctor yearly since they were children, so nothing should come as too much of a surprise. However if it’s been a while since your last annual medical exam, or this is your first time going, here’s a good summary of what you can expect from the visit.
First, they will probably take your vitals. These vitals are taken to check your: blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and your temperature. Next, they will grab the stethoscope and listen to your heart and lungs. After that, they will check out the rest of your body in a noninvasive way–looking in your mouth for general dental health and tonsil health, your nerves for reflexes and balance, your extremities for any sensory changes. The next part’s extensiveness varies, but most annual check-ups include screenings for cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels, as well as check your body mass index.
Your visit will probably vary depending on your sex, mainly to check for sex-specific abnormalities. For males, an annual check up most likely will include a testicular, hernia, penis, and prostate exam. Females, on the other hand, will likely receive breast and pelvic exams. If you have any specific physical concerns, the doctor may spend more of their time examining that part of your body.
Most annual medical exams will not involve lab tests, however, some doctors will routinely order certain tests, including: blood count, chemistry panel, and urinalysis. These lab tests are all just further measures to take a deeper dive into your health, and can catch things that a normal routine visit wouldn’t.