Which tests and screenings do I need, and why?
So, you've decided to see your doctor and get a physical. You make an appointment, submit to various pokes and prods, and have a talk with your doctor. Let's say you get a clean bill of health. But did you ask any questions? Do you know why you got the tests you did? When you should get those tests again? Why are you now taking that pill every day?
Believe it or not, many men who do get a physical leave the office without knowing what the term means. Physicals can differ depending on the doctor and on your age. Most consist of three different parts: an actual physical exam, questions to get your medical history and screening tests. You'll be weighed and have your temperature and blood pressure taken. The doctor will also listen to your heart and lung function and check your reflexes. He or she will then ask you about your general health and lifestyle. Finally, the doctor will order screening tests. Basic ones include cholesterol, blood sugar and iron levels. Some doctors also take an EKG to monitor heart function. The one thing that sets a man's physical apart from a woman's is the prostate check -- depending on your age and other symptoms, your physician may want to perform a digital rectal exam. This alone is probably why some men avoid physicals; it's unpleasant, but it's necessary to ensure your health. An enlarged prostate can restrict urine flow or cut it off entirely; it could also signal a tumor (more on this later).
If your doctor prescribes medication based on the results of your physical (such as high blood pressure), be sure to ask about side effects, possible interactions and ways that you can change your lifestyle to help deal with the condition. Also ask how often you should get a physical; if you're over 40, he or she may suggest a yearly one.