Most women who are feeling ill know when it reaches the point that they need to schedule an appointment to see their doctor. Women are also likely to visit their doctor if they have some health concerns that they want to have evaluated. But when it comes to scheduling routine physical examinations and well-care visits, many women are not quite as health savvy.
Why Routine Physical Examinations For Women Are Important
Routine physical exams are an important diagnostic tool that enables your doctor to keep track of any changes taking place in your body that may be indicative to an underlying disease or condition. Without routine check-ups, those conditions can go undetected. Often, the onset of disease can be gradual and symptom-free, enough so that signs may be overlooked until the later stages of the disease. Routine physical examinations can allow the doctor to catch and treat health concerns early enough to possibly avoid a health care crisis. Many potentially harmful conditions can be addressed and treated when detected early, simply by visiting your doctor for a routine physical exam.
What Can You Expect From Your Routine Physical Exam?
Before meeting with your doctor, your basic annual physical exam will start with a nurse. The nurse will take your blood pressure and check your body temperature. The results will be recorded in your medical file and your doctor will look these over before proceeding with the examination.
When your doctor comes in to examine you, he will start by asking a series of health questions that will be recorded and saved in your medical file. Questions will include:
- Any past surgeries
- History of prior illnesses or medical conditions
- Past injuries
- Any allergies to food or medications
- Family medical history
- Smoking habits
- Alcohol and drug usage
- Exercise habits
- Sexual health
- The line of work you are currently in
- Number of past pregnancies
The doctor will ask you if you have any health concerns that need to be addressed. You will be given a chance to ask questions or voice complaints that you may have been experiencing.
The doctor will be assessing your health by visually observing the condition of your skin, your ability to give quick responses to questions asked, and by keeping alert to any signs you may display that could suggest a potential health concern.
The physical portion of the examination will consist of the doctor using a stethoscope to listen to your heart to check for signs of possible heart disease. He will also listen to your lungs to check for possible signs of lung disease. The doctor will rely on simple medical instruments to check your ears, nose and throat and make sure they are in healthy condition. The sinuses and tonsils will be observed as will the teeth and gums. The doctor will look into your eyes to check for any potential problems.
All these simple but useful tests can help give clues about the general condition of your health and can point to any possible abnormalities that need to be addressed further. Here are some other simple tests a doctor might perform during a physical exam for women:
- By palpating your neck, the doctor can determine the condition of your lymph nodes, the size of the thyroid gland. It also allows him to check the carotid arteries for signs of potential problems.
- The doctor will use his hands to apply mild pressure to your abdomen to evaluate liver size and check for any tenderness.
- Bowel sounds will be listened to via a stethoscope. (To learn more about bowel sounds, read Borborygmi: The Noises From Your Stomach.)
- Proper reflex reactions will be tested by tapping the knee area with a little rubber hammer.
- A breast exam will be performed. Your doctor will feel the breasts to check for abnormal lumps while visually checking for breast abnormalities, all of which can be indicative of breast cancer.
- A pelvic examination of the vulva, vagina and cervix should be performed as well as a pap test to screen for cervical cancer, unless these tests have already been performed by a gynecologist.
- The doctor will also perform a check of your Neurological system. By evaluating your balance, reflexes, muscle strength, gait and coordination, your doctor can detect possible warning signs of disease.
Your doctor will perform a variety of diagnostic laboratory tests to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions. Blood tests may include:
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Iron levels to check for anemia in women of childbearing age
- Chemistry panel
- Thyroid function test
- Glucose levels
- Pregnancy test
Additional diagnostic tests may include:
- Chest X-rays
- Pap Test
Preparing For Your Visit
It is best to be well-prepared when going for your annual physical exam. Your doctor will ask many questions in order to accurately diagnosis the present state of your health. He will need to be well-informed of any possible risks that should be checked for. Being able to provide your doctor with important facts about your family’s health history will help give clues to any risks that you may have inherited. Stroke, heart attack, diabetes and cancer are some examples of conditions that may be have been passed on to you.
Bring with you a complete list of all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that you are currently taking or recently stopped taking. Include a list of any vitamins, dietary supplements and herbal remedies as well. Your doctor relies heavily on the information that you provide to help him make the best possible determination about the present condition of your health.
Bring a record of any complaints or concerns that you want addressed. Pay attention to and record how often you are experiencing any symptoms, what you were doing before the symptoms occurred, and any external factors that may be contributing to the symptoms, such as foods or medications.
How Often Should Physical Exams Be Scheduled?
As a form of preventive medicine and in order to reap the most benefits from your physical exam, you should schedule a routine visit once a year. A yearly physical allows your doctor to detect changes in your body that may be cause for concern. Changes may be an indication that further treatment is needed in order to keep you healthy. Sometimes, all that is needed to is a simple lifestyle change, such as when high cholesterol levels are detected. Other times, early warning signs may be detected that prompt further testing or medical treatment. Scheduling an annual physical examination can be a simple way to avoid serious health concerns.
Certain tests will become part of your routine exam as you age.
- At age 35, your doctor may begin paying closer attention to your thyroid. At age 40, your cholesterol levels should be routinely checked and a mammogram screening for breast cancer should begin.
- By the age of 50, you should get a colonoscopy.
- At age 65, a bone density test should be performed to check for osteoporosis.
Women of childbearing age are at risk of suffering from iron-deficiency anemia as a result of blood loss during menstruation. Many times, iron deficiency presents with mild symptoms that often go unnoticed. Symptoms can include fatigue, chills, muscle aches and irritability, or no symptoms at all. If you are of childbearing age and you have heavy bleeding during menstruation, you may need to schedule physical exams more often to keep a close eye on iron levels.