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Physical exams are part of just about any interaction with a doctor, and, depending on the circumstances behind the exam, it might be thorough or very brief. Patients will generally first draw attention to a particular pain or sensation, and after examining the issue, the doctor will answer any questions in addition to outlining a treatment plan that can fit the needs of the individual patient. Expect a physical exam to last longer or shorter based on the severity of the medical problem.
A general physical exam will usually check everything, though it will start with a discussion of basic lifestyle factors (i.e., sexual activity, how often you smoke and drink, etc.) in addition to family health history. The physician will then check vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, before further examining the body. Doctors will typically examine the head and neck, heart, lungs, and other internal organs. Depending on the circumstances, the doctor might recommend neurological, dermatological, or abdominal testing as well.
Most of the differences between a male and female physical exam have to do with the sexual organs. A man, for example, might undergo a prostate check or testicular exam, while women can expect breast and pelvic exams.
Physical exams do not necessarily include lab testing, but if the doctor recommends a test, it is important to find out why. However, lab testing during physical exams is usually minor and can include a blood count, cholesterol test, urinalysis, and similar procedures.
Physical exams are recommended to all individuals at least once a year to look for any developing health issues. Furthermore, anyone in poor health or who does not live a healthy lifestyle may want to undergo a physical exam every few months.