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Physical examination

In medicine, physical examination is the process by which the physician investigates the body of a patient for signs of disease to aid in determining the correct diagnosis. It generally follows the taking of the medical history - an account of the symptoms as experienced by the patient.

Although doctors have varying approaches, a systematic examination starts at the head and finishes at the extremities . After the main organ systems have been investigated, specific tests may follow (such as a neurological investigation, orthopedics) or specific tests when a particular disease is suspected (e.g. eliciting Trousseau's sign in hypocalcemia).

With the clues obtained during the history and physical examination the doctor can now formulate a differential diagnosis, a list of potential causes of the symptoms. When this has happened, specific testing (or occasionally empirical therapy) generally confirms the cause, or sheds light on other, overlooked, causes.

According to recent research, a systematic physical examination at regular intervals during hospital admission can change the ultimate diagnosis in >10% of all cases.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45