What is an annual physical?

An annual physical exam helps your primary care physician determine the overall status of your health. During the exam, you can discuss any new abnormalities or health concerns you may have.

Healthy adults should visit their primary care doctor each year for an annual physical. If you have chronic condition or disease, you may need to see your primary care doctor more regularly or visit a specialist to manage your care.

Physical exam

Your doctor or a nurse in your doctor’s office will discuss your full medical history with you. He or she will update your personal and family medical history as well as determine your lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking (alcohol), sexual health, diet and exercise.

Most commonly taken by a nurse, you’ll also have a variety of vital signs examined, including:

  • Blood pressure – 120/80 is normal blood pressure
  • Heart rate – Under 100 beats per minute is normal
  • Respiration rate – Under 16 breaths/minute is normal
  • Temperature – 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is average

Your doctor will also listen to your heart and lungs to check for signs of heart disease or lung abnormalities. By looking into your mouth, your doctor can evaluate your throat, tonsils, teeth, gums, ears, eyes, nose, thyroid and lymph nodes. During an abdominal exam, your doctor will gently press on your stomach to assess your liver, bowels and other abdominal organs.

To determine neurological health, your doctor will test your nerves, muscle strength, balance, and mental state. An extremities exam will also look for abnormalities in the joints, arms or legs. Your doctor may broadly examine your skin and nails for abnormalities that may be an indication of skin disease in the body. Full dermatologic exams can also be performed a dermatologist.

Men may have additional examination of their testes, penis, prostate and abdominal wall between the intestines and scrotum. Women may have additional examination of the breasts and pelvis.

Laboratory tests

Your doctor may order a complete blood count, chemistry panel or urinalysis to confirm the diagnosis of a disease or condition. Routinely, you may also have a cholesterol test to evaluate your risk for heart disease and a blood sugar test to determine if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

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