Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Preparing for your annual physical exam

July 13, 2021 | Family MedicineInternal Medicine

Even if you feel healthy, an annual physical exam can help you identify potential underlying issues that may otherwise have gone undetected before they get worse. Visiting regularly with your physician can help you avoid health problems down the road, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or cancer.

Why should you get a physical exam?

A physical examination helps your provider determine the status of your overall health. It also gives you a chance to get to know your physician and discuss any health concerns or pain symptoms you may be experiencing. Most doctors recommend patients get a physical examination at least once a year, especially for people over the age of 50.

Do I have to be a certain age to get a physical exam?

Even if you are in your 20s or 30s, getting a physical exam is an important step to take care of your health now and into the future because potential “silent” conditions can damage your health without causing any symptoms. Getting an annual physical exam can help you avoid negative surprises in your health as you continue to age.

Annual physicals are especially important for those that have a history of medical conditions in their family, such as cancer or high blood pressure. Checking in with your doctor in your early years can help you have peace of mind regarding your health and catch potential problems early on when they are more manageable.

Here are a couple of tests young adults should consider taking often:

  • Blood pressure test
  • Cholesterol test
  • HIV test
  • Skin Cancer test
  • The A1C test for Type Two Diabetes
  • Pap smear
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia tests

What should you expect?

At your annual physical, your doctor will:

Check your vital signs: This step includes taking your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate. The doctor does this at the beginning of the exam to create a baseline for your overall health.

Perform the physical exam: This step includes inspecting your eyes, ears, and throat. Your provider may also touch areas like your abdomen and back to check for potential issues.

Update your vaccines: Depending on your current age, your physician may recommend new vaccinations or booster shots to keep you up-to-date on your vaccinations.

Make sure you get the screenings you need: Your physician will let you know if you need a blood test, colonoscopy, or bone density scan and help you schedule them.

Update your health records: If you have existing conditions or experience any changes to your health, your physician will help you keep your current health practices and records up-to-date.

Give guidance on preventing the risk of diseases: Your doctor may provide information/motivation to help you quit smoking, maintain or lose weight, or manage risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Manage your medications: If you need prescription medications, your doctor will make sure that all of your medications (including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements) do not negatively interact with each other.

What should men expect at their physical exam?

In addition to the general physical exam, men should also expect the following as part of their physical examination:

Testicular exam: Your physician may test each testicle for lumps, changes in size, and tenderness.

Hernia exam: Your doctor will test for weaknesses in the abdominal wall between the intestines and scrotum by asking you to “turn your head and cough.”

Penis exam: If you find sexually transmitted infections such as warts or ulcers on your penis, consult with your doctor during your examination.

Prostate exam: Your provider will insert a finger into your rectum to make sure the prostate is a normal size and that there are not any other abnormalities.

What should women expect at their physical exam?

In addition to the general physical exam, women should expect the following as part of their physical examination:

Breast exam: Your doctor will check your lymph nodes and underarm area for visual signs of abnormalities in breasts and nipples. They will also check your breast for abnormal lumps that may indicate breast cancer or benign breast conditions.

Pelvic exam: This examination checks for abnormalities in the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries. Your doctor will also check for possible sexually transmitted infections.

How can you prepare for your visit?

Proper preparation ahead of time can help you feel at ease when you visit with your doctor. Here are some recommended ways you can prepare for your physical ahead of time:

  • Bring a list of the current medications you take including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements.
  • Make a list of any symptoms or pain you may be experiencing
  • Bring relevant results from recent tests or screenings
  • Bring a copy of your medical and surgical history
  • Contact information of other doctors you may have seen previously
  • If you have an implanted device such as a defibrillator or a pacemaker, bring a copy of the front and back of your device card
  • Bring a list of any questions you want to ask your doctor
  • Wear comfortable clothes and avoid excess jewelry, makeup, or other things that may prevent your provider from fully examining your body.
  • Bring a list of vaccinations you have received

If you are looking for a new physician to perform your next physical exam, visit the Revere Health Physicians page for more information on how our providers are making a difference in their communities.

Lindsey LeBaron


Lindsey LeBaron

Lindsey LeBaron has been working as the Marketing Assistant for Revere Health for the past three years. Lindsey has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences at Brigham Young University and will graduate with her master’s degree in global strategic communications at Florida International University in December 2021. Coupled with her master’s degree, Lindsey is also working on a certification in crisis management and consensus-building. Recently, she was awarded the honor of joining the National Communications Association as a member of the Lambda Pi Eta honor society. Lindsey is passionate about building lasting connections between communities to create lasting change and believes that communication is a vital element to building long-lasting relationships. When she is out of the office, Lindsey enjoys singing and playing the piano, going on adventures, traveling to new locations, and reading books about world affairs.

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.