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Systemic Exam: Basic Physical Exam Terminology

Systemic Exam: Basic Physical Exam Terminology
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  • 0:01 Physical Exam
  • 0:30 Assessments
  • 2:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

In this lesson, we will look at the various parts of the assessment portion of the basic physical exam, including the way in which the assessment is done and what the doctor is looking for.

Physical Exam

You spent many of your younger years playing sports and got sport physicals every year as required. Now you are an adult and are told that you need to start getting a basic physical exam every year.

You initially think the physical exam will be similar to the ones you had when you were younger, but you aren't sure. You really want more information on the assessments that will be done on you during the physical exam to help you relax. You find out that the doctor is going to examine your body by checking its different systems through various assessments.

Assessments

One of the first things you will likely be asked is if you are experiencing any pain anywhere in your body. You probably know what pain is, but let's get a definition anyway. Pain is any feeling sensation sent through the nervous system that is uncomfortable. There are, of course, different types and intensities of pain. Pains can be consistent or come and go, and they can be sharp or dull. If you are experiencing pain, then your doctor will want to know the type and ask you how intense the pain is on a scale of one to ten.

If you are in pain, then your doctor will likely start to touch and feel with his or her hands the area that is in pain. This is known as palpation. Now, your doctor isn't trying to put you in more pain by doing this, even if it seems that way! Your doctor is actually trying to determine if the structure or area feels to be its normal size, shape, texture, and location. Your doctor may ask if the pain changes in intensity while doing palpation.

Palpation will still take place during a physical exam even if you are not experiencing pain. That's because palpation can help with early detection of conditions or diseases that may arise in the stomach, pelvic, or other regions of the body.

Another assessment is auscultation, listening to the different parts of the body using the stethoscope. Your doctor will want to hear the strength, rhythm, and frequency of your heart sounds, lung sounds, and abdominal, or bowel sounds.

The last thing your doctor is likely to do to assess you is what is known as percussion. Your doctor is not about to start playing the drums like you may first think when you hear percussion, but that's also not that far from what is about to happen. You are going to be the drum! Percussion is when a doctor taps on various body parts using his or her hand, fingers, or other small instrument.

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