Students often wonder if they need to have a “physical” on a regular basis. A physical is a preventive medicine visit, meaning that you are coming in to see your health care provider when you are NOT sick and don’t have any current problems. It’s a visit designed to assess your risk for certain medical conditions and to come up with a strategy to continue your good health.
For most college, grad and professional students (i.e. adults aged 18-35), the following physicals are usually recommended. Why are these examinations recommended while others (like checking your cholesterol level) are not? It’s because they screen for conditions that are likely to be affecting you, can be treated, and which would create a health problem for you if they were not detected and treated.
For men who are sexually active, the recommendations are for an annual screening for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) – specifically for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. This is done through a blood and urine sample taken in our lab, but the visit may also include an examination of the penis, scrotum, testes, inguinal (groin) area, and possibly a rectal exam.
For women who are sexually active, an annual pelvic and breast exam is recommended. This usually includes screening for STD’s (as above), as well as a PAP smear (screening for cervical cancer and HPV), and a physical examination of the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries, thyroid gland, and breasts.
Why don’t we include things like herpes, or HPV in men? Because we don’t have a good test to screen for them. Remember, we’re talking about physical exams when you have no problems. If you’re having symptoms like a sore or bump, we have ways of checking for herpes or HPV, but if everything is perfectly fine below the belt, we don’t have a test that can tell if you have them.
Check back next week for a discussion of other screening tests and preventive measures that may be recommended and – even more importantly – MAY be covered by your insurance.
Mary Jane Elam, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University