Table of Contents
When should You visit the gynecologist?
You should visit the gynecologist at least once a year for your Annual Gynecological Exam. You should also visit any time you have a gynecologic health concern.
During your Annual Gynecological Exam, you will be screened for potential gynecologic health problems. These screenings may include a pelvic exam, pap smear, breast exam, laboratory testing, as well as contraceptive or menopause management counseling. Your well woman exam is also the time for you to ask questions and discuss gynecologic health concerns you have with your care provider.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the first gynecologic visit for young females occurs between the ages of 13 and 15. The first visit may just be a discussion between you and your doctor. Depending on your current health care needs, there may also be exams performed. Exams may include a pelvic exam, pap test and breast exam.
20s & 30s
We recommend patients in their 20s and 30s have an Annual Gynecological Exam. This exam may include a pap smear, pelvic exam, breast exam and instructions on how to perform breast self exams. During your well woman exam your care provider will discuss healthy lifestyle choices including healthy diet and exercise, not smoking and alcohol only in moderation. A baseline mammogram is offered between the ages of 35 and 40.
40's & 50's
We recommend patients in their 40's and 50's have an Annual Gynecological Exam. This exam may include a pap smear, pelvic exam, breast exam and instructions on how to perform breast self exams. An annual mammogram is also recommended. This visit may also include counseling for osteoporosis prevention and Bone Density Testing if needed. Other discussion for this visit includes possible peri-menopausal or age related changes you can expect, as well as contraceptive needs and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. During your well woman exam your care provider will discuss healthy lifestyle choices including visiting your primary care provider for regular health screenings, healthy diet and exercise, not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
Menopausal Years and Beyond
An Annual Gynecological Exam is recommended during the menopausal years and after. This exam may include a pap smear, pelvic exam, breast exam and instructions on how to perform breast self exams. In addition to an annual mammogram, a bone density scan is recommended approximately every other year. During your well woman exam your care provider will address issues including vaginal dryness, incontinence and urinary frequency and as well as any concerns you may have. If indicated, hormone therapy may be discussed. During your well woman exam your care provider will discuss healthy lifestyle choices including visiting your primary care provider for regular health screenings, taking calcium and exercising to prevent bone loss, healthy diet, not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
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What to Expect at Your Gynecological Well Woman Annual Exam
The thought of having your first gynecology exam might be nerve wracking, but it is a straightforward and quick procedure that is an important part of maintaining your overall health. Once you understand the purpose of the Annual Gynecological Exam and what it involves, you will realize that there is nothing to worry or be embarrassed about.
The purpose of your routine annual gynecology exam is to allow a health care provider to check your female organs to ensure and maintain good gynecological health. The physical portion of the exam takes about 10 minutes and there is a time before and after the exam to ask and answer any questions you and your health care provider might have.
Before Your Annual Gynecological Exam
Women should start receiving annual gynecology exams between the ages of 18 and 21, or when they become sexually active. However, if you are experiencing any gynecological symptoms, you should schedule an exam sooner. Such symptoms include irregularities in the menstrual cycle, unusual or severe vaginal or pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, swelling, tenderness, sores, lumps, or itching, or unusual changes in the breast.
When making your first appointment, it is helpful to tell your gynecologist that this is your first gynecological exam. Your health care provider knows that many women feel nervous about gynecology exams, and they will help you to relax and understand the process. It is also perfectly acceptable to have a female family member or friend accompany you during your appointment and, if you would prefer, you can always request an additional nurse chaperone.
Otherwise, there is not much you have to do to prepare for a pelvic exam. Do not douche, use vaginal creams or have sex for 24 hours prior to your well woman exam, and if you have your period during the time you are supposed to have your exam, you will need to reschedule.
What the Gynecological Exam Includes
The physical exam includes a urine sample, an external and internal pelvic exam, pap smear, and a breast exam.
The pelvic exam in your gynecological exam consists of four main steps: the external genital exam, the speculum exam, the Pap Smear test and the bimanual exam.
For the exam, you will lie on the examining table in a dressing gown with your legs in stirrups or knee rests and a sheet is draped over your legs for your personal privacy. Once you are comfortable, your gynecologist will ask you to spread your knees apart. At this point, try to relax as much as possible. Breathe deeply and do not tense your muscles. This will make the exam less painful and more efficient. Rest assured that if you have requested the company of a friend or family member or chaperone, that they will be asked to stand at a location that preserves your personal privacy.
During the external genital exam your clinician will visually examine the vulva and labia. They are checking for abnormalities, such as irritation, swelling, redness, cysts, or any visual indication of sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
A Pap Smear checks for precancerous or cancerous cells. This is a quick procedure that involves taking a sample of your cervical cells and testing them to verify that they are healthy. It will feel like a strong pinch. This Annual Gynecological Exam test is very important and it is necessary even if you are not experiencing any symptoms and do not have any personal concerns. However, you will not know the results of the Pap Smear test at your appointment. The cell sample has to be sent to a laboratory where it is carefully examined. Your results will take a few weeks to get back to you.
After the Pap Smear test, your health care provider will remove the speculum and perform a bimanual exam to check the health of your ovaries and uterus. This portion of the exam involves inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the vagina with one hand. With the other hand, they will press down on your stomach. You will feel pressure and some light discomfort is possible, but again, always tell your gynecologist how you are feeling throughout the examination.
Annual Gynecological Exam
Annual Gynecological Exam
The breast exam is brief and painless. Your health care provider will manually palpate your breast, feeling for lumps, thickening, or discharge. They will also teach you how to give yourself a personal breast exam.
You will be asked to provide a urine sample. Urine is used to check for kidney health, various infections, and pregnancy.
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