The physical—an awkward occurrence that, unless you were very involved in athletics, you may have been avoiding. There are two different types of physicals, and a variety of reasons why they’re important to your health. Typically, they can either serve as reassurance that you’re in good health, or a warning system to detect problems before they become serious. They also let your doctor become better acquainted with your health.
The Two Types of Exams
There are two main kinds of physicals for women: the well woman exam and the standard physical. The basic physical can be as brief or as thorough as your doctor deems necessary, based upon your individual health needs. It includes a routine check of vitals like blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and temperature. Your doctor may also examine your abdomen, extremities, and skin for any signs of health changes.
The goal of a standard physical is to detect any health changes before they become serious, as well as checking your overall health. They are performed on women of all ages, especially those heavily involved in athletic activity, typically once per year. Some athletic organizations require frequent physicals to ensure the athletes are in complete health before competitions.
The well woman exam is different from a standard physical because it focuses solely on the reproductive process. This exam has four parts:
Basic history and physical
This part will mimic a basic physical, since your doctor will want to understand your previous medical history and any current ailments. It will measure your height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, heart, and respiration. This part of the exam is to examine your overall health, as well as to identify any potential problems.
A basic breast exam will also be performed, to feel for any potential lumps or other unusual occurrences. This part of the exam is crucial, and your doctor should also instruct you on performing self-breast exams at home.
Optional pelvic exam
This part of the exam is important, although optional. Your doctor will examine your uterus, vagina, ovaries, vulva, and cervix for signs of cancer or other ailments through a pap smear, or swab. The swab is sent to be tested, and the results are often delivered within a few weeks. Since most cancers develop slowly, it is important to have yearly pap smears.
Contraceptive and Menopause Counseling
The final part of the well woman exam depends on your age and sexual activity. For most people under age 45, there will be contraceptive counseling. This includes discussing with your doctor the birth control options that are available, although contraception is optional. Menopause counseling, typically for women over the age of 40, includes discussing preparation for the onset of menopause. While this step is optional, it is designed to give a better understanding of health benefits and risks.
Physicals and well woman exams are designed for women of any age, although pap smears are recommended for women aged 21 and over. Slight variations in these exam procedures may be performed by your doctor based on your individual health needs, but the results should be the same: a detailed report on your health.
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