Behind the scenes at your checkup

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An annual physical by your primary care physician is meant to provide a baseline window on what is normal for you and detect abnormal conditions or disease states that may not present any symptoms before causing you harm. Here’s what we’re looking at when you see us:


Vital signs
These are a basic dashboard measure of how hard your body is working and include:

  •  Temperature (normal is 98.6˚)
  •  Pulse (60-100 per minute)
  •  Blood pressure (120/80)
  •  Respiratory rate (10-16 breaths per minute)
  •  Oxygen saturation (how much oxygen is dissolved in your blood, which should be 96-100 percent)

Fever, dehydration, anemia or disturbances in your metabolism or the circulatory or respiratory systems can influence any or all of these parameters and give an indication of your overall well-being.

CBC (complete blood count)
This is a measure of the number and type of cells in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen and require sufficient dietary iron for normal levels. Too few red blood cells result in anemia, causing a lack of energy and fatigue, or in severe cases, headaches, fainting or breathlessness. White blood cells help to fight infection and if elevated indicate infection or inflammation somewhere in your body. Very high WBC levels can be an indication of leukemia, a form of blood cancer. Platelets are the components of your blood that initiate normal clotting and can result in bleeding if too low, or harmful blood clots if too high.

Urine analysis
This office test looks for evidence of too much sugar, acid, protein and red or white blood cells in the urine. Abnormal findings may be a sign of diabetes, kidney stones and kidney inflammation or infection.

Thyroid hormones
The thyroid gland is the body’s master thermostat and controls your overall rate of metabolism. Too much and you may be hot, experience heart palpitations and have a tremor. Too little and you may be sluggish, gain weight and feel cold.

Cholesterol
This is needed to build healthy cell membranes in every part of the body. Too much cholesterol causes premature hardening of the arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease or strokes. Too little and your body will fall apart, literally!

Chest X-ray
This can find abnormal nodules which may suggest cancer, an enlarged heart or evidence of infectious disease or inflammatory conditions.

EKG (electrocardiogram)
This looks at the electrical activity of the heart and can detect abnormalities in rhythm and heart size or show evidence of strain or injury as a warning sign or evidence of a heart attack.

Breast, rectal, testicular or pelvic exams
These exams, though briefly uncomfortable, are designed to find signs of cancer and may save your life if suspicious findings are discovered early, before you have other more obvious symptoms.

Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. Email him your questions at askdrmark@metro.us.


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