Word of the Week: Palpation

illustration of scientist looking into microscope - word of the week

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Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.


How to say itPalpation (pal-PAY-shun)

What it means: To examine a body part by touching it.

Where it comes from: Latin, palpare, “to stroke or caress”

Thyroid palpation, woman
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Where you might see or hear it: When your provider does an exam, they may need to feel different parts of your body. To palpate a part of your body means to touch and feel it. If an area of your body does not feel normal when your provider is palpating it, there might be a problem.

For example, your provider might palpate under your ribcage on the left side to see if they can feel your spleen. If the organ feels bigger than usual, it can be a sign that your body is fighting an infection. It could also mean that there’s something wrong with the spleen.

When you might want to use it: Some people feel very nervous about having a provider touch their body. If you have a loved one who is feeling uneasy about having an exam because they know they will need to be touched by a provider, it might help to explain what palpating is and why it’s done.

It can also help to reassure your loved one that most of the time, a provider only needs to briefly touch a patient to palpate a specific part of the body.

Palpation can be uncomfortable but it usually does not hurt. If it does hurt when your provider is palpating a part of your body, it can actually be a sign that something’s wrong.

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