Time for Your Annual Physical? What Women Should Know.

Annual physical exams are important to your overall health and well-being.  These yearly exams are particularly essential for women.  While some patients view their annual physicals as a way to get a clean bill of health for the year, others view them with anxiety and fear.  Knowing what to expect during your routine physical exam can make the entire experience easier and more comfortable.

Annual exams typically check the following things, regardless of your gender:

  • Medical history. Your doctor will ask you questions about your lifestyle and habits, including smoking and drinking.  This is also the time for you to mention any health concerns you currently have.
  • Vital signs. Your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature will all be checked and recorded.
  • Heart and lung exams. Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen to your heartbeat and your breathing.
  • Head, neck, and abdominal exams. Your doctor will use their hands to press on your neck, throat, and abdomen checking for sensitivity and abnormalities.  They will also check the inside of your mouth and throat by asking you to say, “Ahhhh.”
  • Neurological exam. Your nervous system will be tested by having your knees hit with a small mallet to check your reflexes.  Your doctor may also ask you to push or pull using your hands and feet to check for muscle strength and balance.
  • Skin exam. While likely not as thorough as a visit to a dermatologist, your primary care physician will do a glance over your body checking for any abnormal moles, lesions, rashes, or spots on your skin.
  • Laboratory work. Your doctor may wish to take blood samples and analyze for cholesterol, blood sugar, or other tests.

The above list of standard items checked during a routine physical tend to be painless and cause minimal discomfort to the patient. These items also provide a nearly instant picture of your health and if any irregularities are noted by your doctor, they will follow up on them right then and there or may refer you to specialists.

Women have another set of reproductive health exams that are part of annual preventative exams.  Some women may see their primary care physicians for these exams, while others may visit specialists in women’s health. Either way, they are critical tests to ensure your optimal health and wellbeing.

  • Breast exam. Your doctor will both visually and physically exam your breasts looking for any lumps, bumps, or skin abnormalities that could indicate breast cancer or non-threatening breast issues.
  • Mammogram. Mammograms typically begin after age 40 and involve placing your breasts between two radiographic breast plates which are gently pressed together, flattening your breast.  This exam provides imaging of the breast tissue and is used to detect breast cancer.
  • Pelvic exam. Your doctor will both visually and physically examine your vagina, vulva, and cervix, checking for any abnormalities that may be indicative of cancer, sexually transmitted disease, or other benign condition.  As part of the pelvic exam, your doctor will perform a bimanual exam.  They will insert two gloved fingers of one hand into your vagina and feel both your uterus and ovaries, again checking for any abnormalities.  While this exam may cause pressure and some discomfort, it should not be painful.
  • Pap and HPV tests. These screenings can indicate the presence of cervical cancer and help assess risk.  Your doctor will insert a sterile swab in your vagina and gently scrape your cervix to obtain a cell sample for analysis.  While this test may be uncomfortable to some, it is critical for assessing cervical health.

While routine, annual medical exams many be an inconvenience, they 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.  Northwest Primary Care offers a variety of physical exams and preventative services and we look forward to keeping you happy, health, and well for many years to come.

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