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What to Expect During Your Annual Physical


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It's time again for your annual checkup. What your doctor does during your yearly exam will vary to some degree based on your age, changes in your health, and other variables. Different doctors may also check different things simply because exam protocols vary. Also, if there is something specific you need to have examined, it could require a specialist to diagnose the problem properly.

Here are things most people can expect during their annual physical.

Blood Pressure Check - At a minimum, you should have your blood pressure checked every two years, but expect your doctor to take a reading during every annual exam. Blood pressure readings have two numbers: systolic and diastolic. For most adults, normal blood pressure is when the top number (systolic) is less than 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is less than 80. If your results have been close to or in the hypertension range, you should consider having your blood pressure checked more often. If your blood pressure is regularly above normal, your doctor may order a test to rule out type 2 diabetes.

Weight and Height Measurements - Checking your weight and height is an integral part of your physical exam. Sudden gain or loss of weight can be indicators of changes in health. Additionally, being severely overweight or obesity can lead to all kinds of health problems. Your doctor will 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 can help determine whether you need to lose weight for your health.

Cancer Screening - As you age, your checkup protocol will change. When you reach the age of 50, your physical may include a rectal exam and possibly a test to analyze a stool sample. This is to check for colon and rectal cancer. If you’re a man, a rectal exam also checks for an enlarged prostate. Women, more so after age 40, may have a breast exam during an annual physical. Your checkup may also include a full skin exam, looking for early signs of skin cancer.

Blood Tests - Your doctor may order blood tests during your annual checkup. The primary reason for the blood test is to check your cholesterol. If you are at risk of heart disease, your doctor might start checking these levels when you are in your early twenties. You may also have your blood tested for diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing for diabetes after age forty-five.

Age-Related Exams

If you’re a man sixty-five or older, your doctor may look for signs of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This occurs if the main artery that passes through the belly becomes weak. It can be fatal if it balloons out and ruptures. This condition may be ruled out with an ultrasound. If you’re a woman sixty-five or older, your doctor may suggest screening for osteoporosis. Although it’s not very common, men may also have this screening. This is also an opportunity for women of reproductive age to talk with your doctor about birth control or family planning.

Counseling for a Healthy Lifestyle

Your annual checkup is the time to talk with your doctor about your test results and the contributing healthy or unhealthy habits. You'll have to answer questions about your alcohol intake, whether you smoke or use drugs, domestic violence, safe sex, level of physical activity, and diet.

Mental health is another topic that many doctors ask about at yearly visits. Lastly, be sure to give your doctor a full list of all medicines and supplements, prescription and over the counter, you take.

To find a primary care physician affiliated with Los Angeles Community Hospitals, click here.