Every year, millions of people show up to the doctor’s office, even though they’re not suffering from any symptoms. They’re not in any pain, don’t have any unsightly rashes, or bulges emanating from parts of their body where they shouldn’t. In short, they appear to be in good health. Instead of turning them away and telling them to come back when they are sick, the physician embraces them with open arms and begins taking a bunch of measurements. What the heck is going on?
Routine physicals have been a part of medical treatment for at least the last one hundred years, ever since doctors have been able to probe the body’s chemistry. The purpose of these physicals is to find out whether the body is healthy according to those markers, not just the patient’s report about how they feel. A routine exam, therefore, is all about finding unseen problems and getting on top of them early, before they start causing real damage.
Routine physicals by a family medicine doctor include the following:
Doctors like to perform a visual examination of the body. The purpose of this isn’t to make you feel awkward, but to find problems you may overlook. Doctors will peer into your eyes, ears, chest, joints, and abdomen, looking for potential problems.
A healthy pulse is essential. But, it’s precisely the sort of thing that is difficult for the patient to detect. Can you honestly say that you know the precise rhythm of your heart? The likely answer is no. During a routine physical, your physician will hook you up to specialized medical equipment that shows whether your pulse is as it should be. Problems with your pulse readings could indicate heart issues – something that needs urgent attention.
The third big pillar of the routine physical is lab tests. You go along to your checkup, your doctor removes some of your blood with a syringe and then sends it off to the lab for analysis. Your blood contains important markers indicative of your overall state of health. Doctors look out for things that might indicate that you’re at a higher risk of heart disease or diabetes. For instance, your cholesterol might be above 220 mg/dL putting you at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Again, you can’t tell whether you have high cholesterol. There’s no pain associated with the condition. So it’s sensible to go to the doctor every few months to get it checked. Regular checkups also mean that you can track your cholesterol over time. You can see if diet and lifestyle measures are improving your metabolic status or not.
The fourth pillar is screening. The type of testing you receive at a routine checkup very much depends on your gender. For women, screening mostly involves pap smears, mammograms, and pelvic exams for risk of STI transmission. For men, the focus is on the colon and lungs because of cancer.
If you haven’t had a physical in a while, schedule with your GP ASAP to make sure that all is well with your health.
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