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What Exactly Do Life Insurance Exams Test For?

A life insurance medical exam, also known as a paramedical exam, is a crucial step in the life insurance application process. These exams are designed to assess an individual’s overall health and determine the level of risk they pose to the insurance company. By evaluating various aspects such as medical history, physical measurements, blood tests, and more, these exams provide valuable information used to determine coverage eligibility and premium rates.

Let’s explore in more detail what these exams typically entail and what they test for.

Medical History:

When conducting a life insurance medical exam, one important aspect that is assessed is the individual’s medical history. The examiner will inquire about previous illnesses, surgeries, medications, and chronic conditions that the applicant may have experienced. This information helps insurance underwriters gain a comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s health background, including any pre-existing conditions that could impact their insurability or risk level.

Additionally, the examiner may ask about the medical history of the applicant’s immediate family to determine if there are any hereditary health conditions that could affect their longevity or overall health. The medical history assessment is a vital component in evaluating the applicant’s health status and assessing the risk involved in providing life insurance coverage.

Family Medical History:

Family medical history is an important aspect evaluated during a life insurance medical exam. Insurance companies often inquire about the medical history of an applicant’s immediate family, including parents, siblings, and sometimes grandparents. This information helps underwriters assess the potential genetic predisposition to certain health conditions that could impact the applicant’s insurability or risk profile.

By understanding the family’s medical history, insurance companies can identify patterns or indications of hereditary diseases or conditions that may pose a higher risk to the applicant. For example, if there is a history of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, or other significant medical conditions in the family, it may increase the likelihood of the applicant developing similar conditions.

The purpose of assessing family medical history is to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s overall health risks, considering both genetic and environmental factors. However, it’s important to note that the impact of family medical history on life insurance coverage can vary depending on the specific insurance company’s policies and guidelines.

Height, weight, and body mass index (BMI):

During a life insurance medical exam, one of the assessments conducted is measuring the applicant’s height, weight, and calculating their body mass index (BMI). These measurements provide important insights into the applicant’s overall body composition and can help determine their risk for certain health conditions.

  • Height: Measuring the applicant’s height is a standard procedure during the medical exam. It provides a baseline measurement for evaluating their overall body proportions and can be used in conjunction with other factors to assess their health status.
  • Weight: Measuring the applicant’s weight is another essential component of the medical exam. It helps determine if the individual falls within a healthy weight range for their height. Deviations from the ideal weight range can indicate potential health risks such as obesity or malnutrition, which may impact the individual’s insurability or increase the risk of certain diseases.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): BMI is a numerical value calculated based on an individual’s height and weight. It provides a standardized measure of body composition and is commonly used as an indicator of overall health. By calculating the BMI, insurance underwriters can assess the applicant’s risk for conditions associated with weight, such as heart disease, diabetes, or certain types of cancer. However, it’s important to note that BMI alone may not provide a complete picture of an individual’s health, as factors such as muscle mass and body fat distribution are not taken into account.

The height, weight, and BMI measurements obtained during the medical exam contribute to the overall assessment of the applicant’s health and help insurance companies determine the appropriate premium rates and coverage eligibility based on the associated risks.

Blood pressure:

As part of a life insurance medical exam, the applicant’s blood pressure is commonly measured. Blood pressure refers to the force exerted by blood against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps it throughout the body. This assessment helps evaluate cardiovascular health and potential risk factors for heart disease and other related conditions.

During the exam, the examiner will use a blood pressure cuff and a sphygmomanometer to measure two values: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure represents the force exerted on arterial walls when the heart contracts, while diastolic pressure represents the force when the heart is at rest between beats.

The blood pressure measurement is expressed as systolic over diastolic pressure (e.g., 120/80 mmHg). Normal blood pressure ranges may vary slightly depending on the guidelines used, but generally, a healthy blood pressure is considered to be around 120/80 mmHg.

Abnormal blood pressure readings may indicate underlying health issues. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common concern and can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. On the other hand, low blood pressure, known as hypotension, can also have implications for overall health.

Life insurance companies pay attention to blood pressure measurements because they can provide insights into an individual’s risk profile. Elevated or consistently high blood pressure may suggest an increased likelihood of future health complications, influencing the insurance company’s assessment of the applicant’s overall risk and potential premiums.

It’s worth noting that a single blood pressure reading may not be conclusive, and multiple readings may be taken to establish a more accurate assessment of an individual’s blood pressure levels.

Pulse rate:

As part of a life insurance medical exam, the applicant’s pulse rate is typically measured. The pulse rate refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute and provides valuable information about cardiovascular health and overall fitness.

To measure the pulse rate, the examiner typically places their fingers on specific pulse points, such as the wrist (radial artery) or neck (carotid artery). They count the number of beats felt within a designated time, usually one minute, although shorter durations like 15 seconds may be used and then multiplied accordingly.

The pulse rate is an essential indicator of heart function and can provide insights into the individual’s overall cardiovascular health. A normal resting pulse rate for adults generally ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute. However, athletes or individuals who engage in regular aerobic exercise may have lower pulse rates due to their increased cardiovascular efficiency.

Deviation from the normal pulse rate range may indicate underlying health conditions. For example, a persistently elevated pulse rate (tachycardia) may be associated with factors such as stress, anxiety, fever, dehydration, or an underlying heart condition. A consistently low pulse rate (bradycardia), on the other hand, can be a result of certain medications, an overactive vagus nerve, or an indication of a potential heart condition.

Insurance companies consider the pulse rate measurement as part of the overall assessment of an applicant’s health and cardiovascular risk. Abnormal pulse rates may raise concerns and warrant further investigation to understand the underlying causes and potential implications for insurability and premium rates.

It’s important to note that a single pulse rate reading may not provide a complete picture, and multiple readings taken on different occasions may be considered for a more accurate assessment of the applicant’s average pulse rate.

Blood tests:

Blood tests are a crucial component of a life insurance medical exam. They provide valuable information about an individual’s overall health, assess organ function, and detect any underlying medical conditions or potential risks.

During a blood test, a healthcare professional will typically draw a sample of blood from the applicant’s vein, usually from the arm. The blood sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The specific blood tests performed may vary depending on the insurance company’s requirements and the policy being applied for. However, here are some common blood tests conducted during a life insurance medical exam:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): This test provides information about the red and white blood cells, hemoglobin levels, platelet count, and other factors. It helps evaluate overall blood health, detect anemia or infections, and assess the body’s immune response.
  • Lipid Profile: This test measures levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Elevated cholesterol levels can indicate a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks or strokes.
  • Liver Function Tests: These tests assess the health and function of the liver. They measure liver enzymes, bilirubin levels, and other markers to evaluate liver function and detect conditions such as hepatitis, liver disease, or alcohol-related damage.
  • Kidney Function Tests: These tests evaluate kidney health and function. They measure levels of creatinine, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and other markers to assess kidney function and detect potential kidney problems or diseases.
  • Glucose Levels: Measuring blood glucose levels helps assess the risk of diabetes or prediabetes. Elevated glucose levels may indicate impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes mellitus.
  • HIV and Infectious Disease Testing: Depending on the insurance company’s requirements, blood tests may be conducted to screen for infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS or other conditions that can impact life expectancy.

These are just a few examples of the blood tests commonly performed during a life insurance medical exam. The specific tests and markers analyzed may vary, and additional tests may be requested based on the individual’s medical history or risk factors. The results of these blood tests, in combination with other factors, help insurance underwriters evaluate an applicant’s overall health and determine coverage eligibility and premium rates.

Urine Sample:

As part of a life insurance medical exam, a urine sample is often collected from the applicant. The urine sample provides valuable information about various aspects of the individual’s health, including kidney function, metabolic markers, and potential indicators of certain medical conditions or substance use.

The urine sample is typically collected in a sterile container and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Here are some key components that may be assessed through a urine sample:

  1. Kidney Function: The urine sample can be used to evaluate kidney health and function. It may include tests that measure levels of creatinine, urea, and other markers to assess the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products from the blood.
  2. Glucose Levels: Urine may be tested for the presence of glucose (sugar) to assess the risk of diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. Elevated glucose levels in the urine may indicate a potential issue with blood sugar regulation.
  3. Protein Levels: High levels of protein in the urine (proteinuria) can be indicative of kidney damage or other underlying health conditions.
  4. pH and Specific Gravity: The pH level and specific gravity of urine provide insights into the body’s acid-base balance and hydration status.
  5. Drug Testing: A urine (or blood) sample can be used to conduct drug screening. It can detect the presence of illicit drugs or metabolites, as well as the misuse of prescription medications.

The urine sample is an important diagnostic tool that helps evaluate various aspects of an individual’s health. The results of the urine analysis, combined with other medical information, assist insurance underwriters in assessing an applicant’s health status, identifying potential risks, and determining coverage eligibility and premium rates.

It’s worth noting that the specific tests conducted on the urine sample may vary depending on the insurance company’s requirements and the policy being applied for. Consent from the applicant is typically obtained before collecting and analyzing the urine sample.

HIV and other infectious diseases:

During a life insurance medical exam, testing for HIV and other infectious diseases is commonly included. This is done to assess an individual’s health status and to evaluate the potential risks associated with infectious diseases.

HIV Testing: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) testing is performed to detect the presence of antibodies or antigens related to the virus. It helps identify individuals who are infected with HIV, which can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV testing is crucial for assessing an applicant’s overall health and determining potential risks associated with HIV/AIDS.

Other Infectious Disease Testing: In addition to HIV, other infectious diseases may also be screened during the medical exam. The specific diseases tested for can vary, but common examples include hepatitis B and C, syphilis, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These tests are conducted to identify the presence of infectious agents and to evaluate an individual’s risk factors for these diseases.

Testing for HIV and other infectious diseases is an important part of the life insurance underwriting process. The results of these tests help insurance companies assess an applicant’s health risks, determine the appropriate coverage, and calculate premium rates. It is essential to note that testing for infectious diseases is conducted with the utmost privacy and confidentiality, and the results are handled according to established medical guidelines and regulations.

The inclusion of HIV and other infectious disease testing during a life insurance medical exam aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s health and to ensure a fair evaluation of their insurability.


As part of a life insurance medical exam, an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) may be performed. An EKG is a non-invasive test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. It provides valuable information about the heart’s rhythm, rate, and overall cardiac health.

During an EKG, small electrodes are placed on the chest, arms, and legs. These electrodes detect the electrical signals generated by the heart as it beats. The signals are then recorded and displayed on a graph, which is interpreted by a healthcare professional.

The EKG can reveal various aspects of cardiac function, including:

  • Heart Rate and Rhythm: The EKG provides information about the heart’s rate, whether it is within a normal range, too fast (tachycardia), or too slow (bradycardia). It also helps identify irregularities in the heart’s rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias.
  • Electrical Conduction: The EKG shows how electrical signals travel through the heart’s chambers, including the atria and ventricles. It helps detect any abnormalities in the conduction pathways, such as bundle branch blocks or atrioventricular (AV) blocks.
  • Cardiac Abnormalities: An EKG can identify patterns or signs of cardiac abnormalities, such as ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart), previous heart attacks, enlargement of the heart chambers, or certain structural abnormalities.

By analyzing the EKG results, healthcare professionals and insurance underwriters can gain insights into an applicant’s cardiac health and assess their risk for cardiovascular diseases. Abnormal EKG findings may warrant further investigation or indicate the need for additional cardiac tests to determine the extent of any potential heart-related issues.

The inclusion of an EKG in the life insurance medical exam allows insurers to assess an individual’s cardiovascular health and determine appropriate coverage and premium rates. It is important to note that the specific requirement for an EKG may vary depending on the insurance company’s policies, the age of the applicant, and the amount of coverage being sought.

Final thoughts…

It’s important to note that life insurance companies can have different underwriting protocols and requirements. While some insurance companies may routinely include an EKG as part of their standard medical exam, others may only request it in specific cases or for certain age groups. Underwriting protocols can vary based on the insurance company’s policies, the type of policy being applied for, the applicant’s age and health history, and other factors.

It’s essential for individuals seeking life insurance to understand that each insurance company has its own underwriting guidelines. These guidelines dictate the specific medical tests, assessments, and risk factors considered during the underwriting process. Some insurance companies may place more emphasis on certain factors, such as family medical history or lifestyle habits, while others may focus on different criteria.

When applying for life insurance, it’s recommended to work with an insurance agent or broker who can provide guidance and assist in finding the most suitable insurance company based on the individual’s unique circumstances and health profile. The agent can help navigate the underwriting process, explain the requirements of different insurance companies, and assist in finding the best policy options available.