A medical history and physical exam are routinely used to evaluate an illness or disease. A medical history and physical exam can often reveal as much or more than many diagnostic lab tests because they help uncover important clues about your illness. The medical history and physical exam will often direct further testing.
The doctor may ask questions similar to the following:
- What symptoms have you experienced?
- Have you ever lost consciousness?
- How long did the symptoms last?
- Have the symptoms ever occurred before?
- Did anything make the symptoms better or worse (such as slow, deep breathing or holding your breath)?
- What were you doing when you first noticed the symptoms?
- Does physical activity bring on your symptoms or make them worse?
- Did you take your pulse when you had the symptoms? If you did, how fast or slow was your heart beating? Was it beating regularly?
- What medicines are you currently taking?
- Do you have any history of thyroid problems?
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Do you drink alcohol or smoke? Do you use any illegal drugs? If so, how much?
- Do you exercise?
During a physical exam, the doctor will:
- Take your blood pressure.
- Check your pulse to see how fast your heart is beating and whether your heart rhythm is regular.
- Listen to your heart through a stethoscope.
- Check your lung sounds by listening through a stethoscope.
- Check the veins in your neck for different types of pulsations.
Why It Is Done
A medical history and physical exam are important ways to evaluate any heart problem.
Normal findings include the following:
- Blood pressure and pulse rate are normal.
- Breathing and heart rhythm and rate are normal.
Abnormal findings that may suggest a problem from a fast heart rate include:
- Low blood pressure.
- Fast or irregular pulse.
If physical findings and your medical history strongly suggest a very irregular heartbeat, further testing will be done.
What To Think About
It is important to provide your doctor with detailed information about your symptoms, past medical history, and lifestyle.
Other Works Consulted
Blomström-Lunqvist C, et al. (2003). ACC/AHA/ESC guidelines for the management of patients with supraventricular arrhythmias-Executive summary: A report of the ACC/AHA/ESC Committee for Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 108(15): 1871-1909.
Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical ReviewerJohn M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015