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Physical Exam Glossary of Terms

Blood pressure Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels, especially the arteries. Oxygen is carried through the body by the blood. When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of tube-shaped arteries and veins, also known as blood vessels and capillaries. The pressure --- blood pressure --- is the result of two forces. The first force occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system. The second force is created as the heart rests between heart beats.
Blood sugar Blood sugar concentration (or blood glucose level) is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in the blood. Glucose comes from carbohydrate foods and is the main source of energy used by the body. Normally, your blood glucose levels increase slightly after you eat, causing your pancreas to release insulin so that blood glucose levels do not get too high. Blood glucose levels that remain high over time can damage eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.
Chemistry Panels Chemistry panels are groups of tests that are routinely ordered to determine a person's general health status. They help evaluate, for example, the body's electrolyte balance and/or the status of several major body organs. The tests are performed on a blood sample, usually drawn from a vein in the arm.
Cholesterol A waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in the body and is made by the liver, cholesterol is also present in foods we eat. People need cholesterol for the body to function normally. Cholesterol is present in membranes (walls) of every cell in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart.
Complete blood count A complete blood count (CBC) gives important information about the kinds of cells and numbers of cells in the blood, especially red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A CBC helps your doctor check any symptoms, such as weakness, fatigue, or bruising, you may have. A CBC also helps him or her diagnose conditions, such as anemia, infection, and many other disorders.
HDL HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol. HDL takes the "bad," LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries. For HDL, a higher number is better. A level less than 40 is low and is considered a risk factor because it increases your risk for developing heart disease. HDL levels of 60 or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.
Heart Rate Heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times the heart beats per minute. Normal heart rate varies from person to person.
LDL LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. An LDL level of 190 or above is considered a serious risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and other problems caused by clogged arteries.
Respiratory rate Respiratory rate is the number of breaths taken within a set amount of time (typically 60 seconds.)
Urinalysis Urinalysis is the physical, chemical, and microscopic examination of urine. It involves a number of tests to detect and measure various compounds that pass through the urine. Urinalysis can reveal diseases that have gone unnoticed because they do not produce striking signs or symptoms. Examples include diabetes and chronic urinary tract infections.

This article first appeared in the January 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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