The doctor performs a hands-on examination of the body and organ systems to collect information about the patient, symptoms, and any potential health problems. A physical should include an examination of the eyes, ears, nose and throat, the glands in places like the neck, and the heart and lungs. The doctor will palpate (feel) the abdomen, listen to the patient's lungs, look in the throat and check pulses, and evaluate the condition and color of the skin.
The recommendations for physical exams vary by age. Children need more frequent exams because they are growing and changing. Newborns should have a check-up at one month and another about six to eight weeks after birth. Children are usually seen every three months until age two, and at least yearly until adulthood. Most healthy adults need a physical exam every year or two, but people with chronic conditions may need to be seen more frequently.
Some components of a physical exam are the same, such as the examination of the eyes, ears, and throat. However, while a child is usually weighed and measured at each visit, an adult only needs height measured once a year. A pelvic exam may be part of the physical for women, while men may need a rectal examination of the prostate gland. Someone who has chronic lung disease needs a more detailed examination of the heart and lungs. If there is a suspicion of dementia in an elderly person, a cognitive evaluation may be part of the examination.
Sports physicals are often required prior to a child starting a new sport or at the beginning of the year. The focus is on whether it is safe for the child to play rather than a complete health exam. School physicals are more comprehensive and focus on overall physical health. An occupational health physical looks at work fitness, while a driver's physical is focused on the ability to drive safely.
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