The purpose of a physical is for the doctor to collect data to assess your risk for disease. It differs from a sick visit in that the doctor is not trying to treat an acute condition, but is trying to provide you with guidance and education on disease prevention and health promotion. However, a discussion of any present acute conditions can be addressed.
What to Expect at a Physical Exam
Your physician will first take a history. This involves asking questions about your personal past medical history (e.g., any injuries or surgeries, etc.), employment history, exercise participation, tobacco habits, prescription and over-the-counter medication use, dietary habits including alcohol consumption, food and medication allergies, vaccination status, family medical history, and any current problems you may be experiencing.
Next your doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam that includes listening to your heart and lungs; looking in your ears, eyes, and throat; performing a neurological exam; palpitation of your abdomen and lymph nodes; a skin examination, and assessment of your pulse and blood pressure.
Typically you will have your blood drawn to determine your cholesterol levels, blood sugar count, among other studies, based on your history taken earlier in the appointment and findings during the physical exam. A urinalysis will also be required. Based on the findings of the history and physical exam, other studies such as x-rays and EKG's, etc., may be ordered by your doctor.
How to Prepare for your Physical Exam
To get the most out of your appointment you should bring a list of current medications and a list of problems you may be experiencing or any questions you may have. You should also have a good understanding of your family's medical history. For example, did your father or mother have heart disease or cancer?
Bringing a diet diary that lists what you have eaten for at least 3 days, and preferably includes a weekend day, would be beneficial. In addition, it is ideal to fast (not eat for 12 hours) to obtain the best readings from the blood work. It is okay to take most current medications unless specified by your doctor not to do so.
Most importantly, be honest with your physician and do not allow feelings of embarrassment preclude you from asking questions about your concerns. Your doctor cannot advise you appropriately if (s)he is not given all of your pertinent information. Remember everything you tell your physician is confidential. His/her goal is to help you achieve optimal well-being.