Scheduling your routine check-up is one of the best things you can do to take control of your health. To get the most out of your time with your primary care doctor, arrive prepared and know what to expect. Vital Signs First, a nurse or physician’s assistant will likely conduct tests to measure your basic vital signs including: Blood pressure. This test involves the squeezing of an inflatable blood pressure cuff on your arm. The cuff is attached to digital display or device. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and it is often silent or symptomless which is why this test is such an important part of your routine check-up. Heart or pulse rate. This test measures the number of your heart beats per minute. It is done by simply counting beats and the results can help your doctor determine how well your heart is working among other things. Respiration or breathing rate. This test measures the number of breaths you take in one minute. The information can help your doctor see how well your lungs are working. Temperature. You will also have your temperature taken at your annual check-up to make sure you are healthy and not fighting off any infection. The Basics After your vitals have been taken, your doctor will talk to you about how you’ve been feeling lately and what, if anything, has been bothering you, such as heartburn or seasonal allergies, for example. Be prepared with a list of any concerns, if any. Your doctor will also ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle including how often you consume alcohol, your smoking status, as well as your diet and exercise patterns. He or she may also ask about your family’s health. The answers can play a role in determining what screening tests you need and when. You will likely be weighed, too. Dramatic weight loss can be a sign of illness, and gaining too much weight can increase risk for heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. What Else To Expect Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Your doctor may ask you to “open wide” to see your throat and tonsils. Your doctor will look in your ears and nose. A basic hearing test may also be part of your physical. Some doctors will tap at the sinus passages in your face to see if they are painful or inflamed, which is a sign of a sinus infection. Don’t be surprised if your doctor also taps at your knees with a rubber mallet. This test checks your deep tendon reflexes and if both limbs react equally. Believe it or not, this simple test can make sure your nervous system is working properly. Your doctor may also tap outside of your elbows, at your wrists and ankles. As part of your routine check-up, your doctor will also feel your abdominal region to see if your liver or spleen is enlarged or you have any abnormal fluid or tenderness. Some primary care doctors will also do skin cancer screening tests, and others may look at the gums and nail beds for signs of disease, such as anemia (low iron in the blood). Women Versus Men Women may also undergo a pelvic exam to make sure their internal female organs are normal, a Pap test to check for cervical cancer, and a clinical breast exam where your doctor feels the breasts to see if there are any suspicious lumps or bumps. This is in addition to a woman’s own breast self-exam. Healthy men over 50 (younger with risk factors) typically undergo prostate cancer screening tests. The American Cancer Society recommends a testicular exam by a doctor as part of a routine cancer-related check-up in addition to the male’s periodic self-exam. Blood Work Blood testing is also part of a routine physical exam. These tests measure your cholesterol and blood sugar or glucose levels. Other lab measurements collected from the same blood sample can include liver function tests and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. A Complete Blood Count (CBC) is often used as a broad screening test to determine your general health status. Your doctor may also measure your blood levels of Vitamin D. In recent years, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host of health problems. A fecal occult blood test to see if there is blood in youth stool may also be part of your exam. Blood in the stool may be the only symptom of early colon cancer. There are several ways a doctor can test for blood in stool. Any of the tests done at your routine check-up can lead to further evaluation based on the results. They will also provide a baseline for future visits.