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The benefits of having regular health checks

Health checks are great for the fact that they can be interpreted immediately. A health check together with a medical history can be used by your doctor to assess your general health and well-being. Health checks should not be reserved for when you are feeling unwell - they are a great way of ensuring your general health is maintained. Some symptoms such as high blood pressure may not produce any obvious physical symptoms, however early detection and treatment can help ensure that your heart remains healthy and that your risk of heart disease or stroke are greatly reduced.

There can be great variation in how detailed a health check is depending on its purpose. A health check may be brief, but a complete health check involves evaluating everything from the patient's appearance to specific organ systems. All the information is recorded which then forms part of your medical record.

There are several techniques your doctor may use during a health check:

  • Visual Examination is used to visually assess parts of the body by looking for abnormal color, shape, size, texture etc.
  • Palpation involves feeling the body using the hands in order to assess size, shape, location and level of pain etc.
  • Percussion involves producing a sound by tapping or scraping a part of the body which can allow determination of parameters such as organ size and density.
  • Auscultation involves listening to sounds produced by organs such as the stomach, lungs, heart.
Your doctor will use a variety of instruments during a health check. Some of the more common instruments are listed below:
  • Thermometer to measure your temperature.
  • Blood pressure monitor to measure blood pressure.
  • Stethoscope to listen to organs such as the abdomen, heart and lungs.
  • Ophthalmoscope to examine the eyes.
  • Speculum to allow examination of the cervix.
  • Otoscope to examine inside the mouth, ears or nose.

During a health check, the doctor will first record your medical history. He may make notes on your general appearance and then check your vital signs temperature, pulse, blood pressure. He will then measure your height and weight. Any pain being experienced will also be noted (usually measured as the patient's perception of the pain on a scale of 1-10).

The doctor will then proceed through a range of possible examinations on various parts of your body as detailed below:

Abdominal Area
The doctor can evaluate the abdominal area by examining the abdomen, liver, spleen, kidneys, costo-vertebral angle, anus and rectum by using a variety of techniques such as visual examination, percussion, palpation and auscultation. The doctor may also look for a linguinal hernia and take a stool sample.

Skin Examination
A skin examination will involve visually examining the skin's color, texture, turgor, moisture, pigmentation, lesions, hair distribution and warmth in order to assess general health and detect local and systemic disease. The skin on the legs may also be examined to detect arterial and venous insufficiency.

Ears, Nose and Throat (ENT)
The doctor may do an ear, nose and throat assessment by examining the external ear, internal ear and nose an otoscope is used to examine the inside of the ear or nose. A basic hearing test may also be conducted.

Heart Function
Heart function can be assessed by measuring the radial pulse, auscultation of the heart, palpation of the precardium, examination of the neck veins, suprasternal notch and precardium. The limbs may also be assessed for evidence of edema.

Head and Neck
The doctor evaluates the head and neck area by examining the head, scalp, mouth, salivary glands, thyroid gland and cervical nodes. During this examination organs such as the tonsils, tongue, gums, scalp, teeth and membranes can be assessed.

Sexual Organs
Various assessment techniques may be performed on male and female sexual organs. The doctor may examine the vagina, cervix, breasts, axillary nodes, penis scrotum, inguinal nodes and may perform a pap smear, bimanual examination or a rectovaginal examination.

The doctor will also examine and evaluate the spine, arm, leg and neck joints to assess such things as joint mobility and spine alignment. Evaluation of the motor system utilizes tests involving the arm and leg muscles and the cerebellar functioning can be tested by asking the patient to perform specific movements.

Lung Function
The lungs may be assessed by measuring the respiratory rate, examining the trachea position, chest expansion and percussion, voice transmission and listening to the lungs.

Eye Examination
An eye examination may involve a vision test, inspection of structures around and in the eye and assessment of the functioning of muscles and pupils of the eye.

Nervous System
A patient's nervous system can be assessed by evaluating the mental status, cranial nerves, motor system, sensory system, reflexes, cerebellar function and gait. The cranial nerves can be evaluated by performing a variety of tests involving various sensory organs such as the eyes, mouth, skin and ears. The patient's mental status is usually assessed verbally.

Other Tests

Further tests will be ordered by the doctor if deemed necessary e.g. blood tests.

The doctor may then offer you advice on how to prevent disease and maintain or improve your health. You may even receive written information about what screening or preventative services you should undertake.

It is up to you whether you follow up on your doctor's advice on further tests, screenings, lifestyle changes etc.

Common Assessments
Some of the more common assessments and measurements that may be performed during a health check are listed below:

  • General appearance
    • ie.g. mobility problems, deafness, jaundice, cyanosis, swelling of ankles etc
  • Vital signs
    • Temperature
    • Blood pressure
    • Pulse
  • Other parameters
    • Weight
    • Height
    • Pain - scale of 1-10
  • Abdominal area
    • Abdomen
    • Liver
    • Spleen
    • Kidneys
    • Costo-vertebral angle
    • Inguinal hernia
    • Anus
    • rectum
    • Stool sample
  • Skin
  • Ear, Nose, Throat
    • Ear external and internal
    • Hearing
    • Nose
  • Heart
    • Pulse
    • Neck veins
    • Precardium
    • Suprasternal notch
    • Heart auscultation
    • Edema
  • Head and Neck
    • Head
    • Mouth
    • Salivary glands
    • Thyroid gland
    • Cervical nodes
  • Sexual organs
    • Cervix
    • Pap smear
    • Vagina
    • Female genitalia
    • Inguinal nodes
    • Bimanual examination
    • Rectovaginal examination
    • Breast
    • Axillary nodes
    • Penis
    • Scrotum
  • Joints
    • Neck
    • Arms
    • Leg
    • Spine
  • Lungs
    • Respiratory rate
    • Trachea position
    • Chest observation
    • Chest expansion
    • Voice transmission
    • Chest percussion
    • Lung auscultation
  • Eyes
    • External examination
    • Conjunctivae
    • Visual acuity
    • Papillary reaction
    • Visual field
    • Eye muscles
    • Internal examination
  • Nervous system
    • Mental status
    • Cranial nerves
    • Motor system
    • Sensory system
    • Reflexes
    • Cerebellar function
    • Gait

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  • What does your doctor do in a physical examination?
  • What questions should you ask the doctor about a symptom or diagnosis?
  • What questions to ask the doctor about the treatment
  • Steps to take to get the most out of a doctor visit

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