A physical exam is a routine appointment with your primary care physician where they check to see how well your body is performing, update your health information to include new symptoms, help you manage chronic conditions, and determine if any further tests are necessary to ensure your continued health. Most doctors perform a physical once a year, but they may do so more often if you have a condition that needs closer monitoring.
At Omni-Med Family Care & Urgent Care in Florham Park, New Jersey, Dr. Roger DiRuggiero and our team offer a variety of physical exams, including annual exams tailored for men, women, and children; employee physicals that include drug screens; Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals; and school and sports physicals. We’re passionate about the need for routine physical exams, so we’ve put together this guide to help you understand the importance of the process.
What a physical exam entails
A routine physical exam usually includes the following steps:
The more Dr. DiRuggiero knows about you, the easier it is for him to determine if anything’s amiss. He asks you questions about any new developments in your health since your last physical, including medications and supplements you’re taking; your job, relationships, and stress level; any new allergies; your vaccination status; and any surgeries you may have had.
The team takes your temperature, pulse, respiration rate, weight, height, and blood pressure. Blood pressure is especially important since it can be an early indicator of cardiovascular problems.
Visual and physical exams
Dr. DiRuggiero first checks your appearance for signs of any possible conditions or problems, including abnormal skin color, skin growths, swellings, and problems with speech or gait.
Next, he performs a hands-on exam that includes:
- Examining the nose, mouth, throat, and ears
- Feeling for the pulse in the neck, groin, and feet to indicate any circulatory problems
- Checking reflex responses
- Listening to the heart and lungs
- Palpating the lymph nodes in the groin, neck, and underarms
- Palpating the abdomen for abnormalities
For women, he may perform a pelvic exam that looks at the health of the vagina, vulva, and cervix. For men, he may perform a testicular exam that screens for lumps, tenderness, and any changes in testicle size.
All routine physicals include blood work, which can show signs of an underlying problem not yet visible to the eye or hands. The doctor generally orders a complete blood count and a complete metabolic panel, the latter of which looks at your blood plasma and indicates any issues with your kidneys, liver, vitamin levels, sugar levels (diabetes), heart function, cholesterol levels, and immune system. He may also request a thyroid screening, especially if you have a family history of thyroid disease.
If any of the numbers stand out as too high or too low, he performs follow-up testing and/or sends you to a specialist for further screening and treatment. He may also send women out for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, and men for a PSA test to screen for prostate cancer. In addition, depending on your history, he may want to screen for depression and colorectal cancer.
Though vaccinations are not always part of a routine physical, the appointment is a good time to catch up on any vaccinations you’ve missed (including your annual flu shot) or get screened for any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as syphilis and HIV.
Discussion of lifestyle choices
The physical is also a good time to sit down with the doctor and discuss things like diet and nutrition, exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Dr. DiRuggiero advises you of ways to change your habits to increase your overall health, such as losing weight to decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Feel free to bring up any medical concerns you have about what you need to do and how you should go about doing it.
In short, a physical exam is a window into your overall health, and it’s important to make it a routine part of your life. That way you can deal with problems while they're still in their early stages and are easy to treat. For children, it’s an important time to measure their growth and development and ensure they’re hitting milestones when they’re supposed to.
If you have any questions about physicals or want to have one done, call our office at 973-377-8776, or schedule an appointment online.