Your Visit to a Clinic
If you’re not visiting your doctor on a yearly basis, it’s never too late to start. In fact, annual physical exams become more important as we age, particularly to be tested for conditions that we cannot detect ourselves. If you have specific concerns, you might want to write them down before your visit - this will help to ensure that you don’t forget to mention something of importance to your physician.
After discussing your medical history and any specific concerns you may have, a physical exam will follow, which may include the following:
Measurements: Your physician or a nurse will take your blood pressure and measure your height and weight.
Head check: Your doctor will examine your eyes, ears, nose and throat.
General body check: Your doctor will check for rashes, swelling or anything else that may seem out of the ordinary. Specifically, he or she will look for enlarged glands by feeling under your arms, your neck, and along your body. He or she will also listen to your heartbeat using a stethoscope, and listen to your breathing.
If it is a general physical exam, your doctor may also ask for blood and urine tests.
If you are a woman
Your doctor will examine your breasts, checking for lumps, swelling or pain. You should be conducting regular self-breast examinations between visits, so reviewing the process with your healthcare provider is a good idea. He or she will then check your groin area, vulva, and around your vagina. What often follows is:
A discussion of your menstrual cycles: your physician will ask questions about your periods, and you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions or talk about any discomfort you may be experiencing.
A discussion regarding sexual health
Internal pelvic exam: Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina, for the purpose of holding the walls open while he or she examines your cervix. If you feel more comfortable having someone else present during this exam, tell your doctor, and his or her assistant will join you.
Pap smear: During the speculum exam, your doctor will gently swab cell tissue from your cervix, with a stick resembling a Q-Tip. The cells are then sent for testing to determine any abnormalities, including the early stages of cervical cancer. Pap smears are recommended for females 18 years of age and over, or those who are sexually active.
Bimanual vaginal exam: After the speculum is removed, your doctor will want to examine your pelvic region. He or she will put on a glove and insert one or two fingers into your vagina, while placing his/her other hand on top of your lower abdomen. By performing this exam, your doctor can feel the size, shape and position of your uterus, ovaries and tubes.
Testing for sexuality transmitted infections: If you’re sexually active, and not in a long-term monogamous relationship, this may be a good time to be tested for STIs.
If you are a man
Your doctor will examine your testicles, penis and scrotum, checking for lumps or pain. It is also a good idea to examine yourself between visits, so feel free to ask your doctor to show you how to check for yourself.
Depending on your age, many physicians will perform a digital rectal exam (DRE) to determine any abnormalities in the prostate gland. Some physicians will also suggest a simple blood test to determine your PSA level (prostate specific antigen; high levels can indicate prostrate cancer or other conditions).
Sexual health: If you’re sexually active, and not in a long-term monogamous relationship, this may be a good time to be tested for STIs. If you are experiencing sexual difficulty - impotence, for example - don’t be timid about bringing this to your physician’s attention.
After the Exam
Your doctor is not allowed to tell anyone, what you said during your visit…so after your doctor has done his or her part, it’s your turn to ask any questions or bring up anything you’re worried about. This is your right. It’s a good opportunity. It’s your body, so you may as well know everything you can about it. Afterward, your doctor may schedule another appointment, and then he or she will leave you alone to get dressed again.