6 Things Your Doctor Does at an Annual Physical

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on September 8, 2020
  • doctor-in-surgery-with-male-patient-using-tablet
    Stay on Top of Your Health
    What your doctor does during your yearly checkup will vary some from person to person. Your health, your age, and your gender make a difference. Also, not all doctors check the same things. For instance, some might check your skin for signs of skin cancer, but others won't. You would need to see a dermatologist for that. The same is true for many other conditions. But here are six things most people can expect at their annual physical.
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    1. Blood Pressure Check
    All adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. It should be checked every year if you have borderline or high blood pressure. If it's regularly above normal, your doctor may also order tests to rule out type 2 diabetes. Blood pressure readings have two numbers. For most adults, normal blood pressure is when the top number is less than 120 and the bottom number is less than 80.
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    2. Weight and Height Measurements
    Obesity can lead to all kinds of health problems. Your doctor may want to use your height and weight to figure out your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It's another way to tell whether you need to lose weight for your health. Also, if you are a man, your doctor might check your waist size. If your belly is more than 40 inches around, you could have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
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    3. Cancer Screening
    After age 50, your physical may include a rectal exam. The doctor also may want to analyze a stool sample. These tests check for colon and rectal cancer. In men, a rectal exam also checks for an enlarged prostate. Women, especially after age 40, may have a breast exam as part of their annual physical. Doctors also might do a full body skin exam, looking for early signs of skin cancer.
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    4. Blood Tests
    An annual physical may include taking a blood sample to test for cholesterol levels. A cholesterol test is common for men 35 and older and women after age 45. If you are at risk of heart disease, you might have these levels checked starting in your early twenties. Some people also have their blood tested for diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing for diabetes after age 45. But your doctor may do earlier testing if you have high blood pressure or symptoms of diabetes. These include thirst, hunger, and frequent urination.
  • Slide 8: Fast Facts about Erythropoietin Test
    5. Age-Related Exams
    If you are an older man, your doctor may look for signs of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. That can occur if the main artery that passes through the belly becomes weak. It can balloon out. If it ruptures, it can be fatal. This is more common in men older than 65. Your doctor may want you to have an ultrasound to rule this out. If you are a woman older than 65, your doctor may suggest screening for osteoporosis. Men may also have or request this screening. Finally, an annual checkup gives younger women the chance to talk with their doctor about reproductive issues, including birth control or family planning options.
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    6. Counseling for a Healthy Lifestyle
    An annual physical is the time for a good chat with your doctor about healthy—and unhealthy—habits. Your doctor might ask about how much alcohol you drink, or whether you smoke. Your doctor might also ask about drug use, domestic violence, and safe sex. Depression is another topic that many doctors now ask about at yearly visits. Your doctor will probably want to know about your diet and level of physical activity. Also, be sure to give your doctor a full list of all medicines you take. Include prescription and over-the-counter drugs and all supplements.
6 Things Your Doctor Does at an Annual Physical
  1. Rethinking the value of the annual exam. American College of Physicians. http://www.acpinternist.org/archives/2010/01/annual.htm
  2. Well Male Examination. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0515/p964.html
  3. Health Maintenance in Women. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/0101/p30.html
  4. Get Your Well-Woman Visit Every Year. US Department of Health and Human Services, http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/everyday-healthy-living/sexual-health/get-your-well-wo...
  5. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Bloo...
  6. Family Health: Regular Check-ups Are Important. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/family/checkup/
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Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 8
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