- Why would I need a gynecology exam?
- What questions are addressed at this exam?
- What tests should be performed every year?
- What should you expect at your yearly gynecological visit?
A gynecological exam is one of the best tools we have to diagnose and prevent gynecological illness in women. These exams are performed by a certified medical provider trained in gynecology. This exam is a critical part of a preventive health plan that goes beyond reproductive health to keep women safe and well both mentally and physically. Most providers recommend seeing your gynecologist each year because there are a number of preventative tests that can happen along with your gynecological exam.
Some of the tests that your doctor may perform include:
- Blood pressure
- Body weight and body mass index measurement
- Breast exam to check for anything abnormal
- Pap smear test to check for cervical cancer
- Pelvic exam to check for abnormal lesions or discharges
This blog will help you understand the importance of an annual gynecological exam and the tests that are performed.
Why Would I Need a Gynecology Exam?
If you are a woman aged 21 or older it’s important to receive a regular gynecological exam to screen for health issues based on your risk factors. If you only see your doctor when you’re sick, there is no way to establish and monitor a baseline for your reproductive health. With an established baseline, your doctor can carefully monitor your health regularly to catch any abnormalities before they escalate and become serious complications.
For example, even if you do a monthly self-breast exam, you might miss a swollen lymph node, a discoloration, or even a small lump that could turn into cancer. There could be cells on your cervix that could also lead to cancer or other issues. You could have even been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease and not even realize it.
What Questions Are Addressed at This Exam?
A gynecological exam for women is often called a women’s wellness exam, because the visit does more than just look at your reproductive health. It’s a way for our practice to proactively prevent potential diseases and medical conditions. You can talk with your gynecologist about:
- Birth control
- Family planning
- Health prevention and wellness
- Menstrual disorders
- Pregnancy care
- Sexual health
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaccinations like HPV or others
While many women may only consider seeing their doctor if a problem arises, the yearly annual exam is designed to catch problems before they cause serious or life-threatening illness. Thousands of women each year are saved simply thanks to some of the preventative screenings your doctor will conduct.
What Tests Should Be Performed Every Year?
If you are aged 21 to 65, you should get a regular women’s wellness exam. This can include a pap smear, breast examination, and pelvic exam. However, this may change based on your circumstances; for example, if you have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer your doctor may screen more frequently.
Your gynecologist may also perform tests as necessary and appropriate for the patient. For example, exposure to chlamydia and gonorrhea, two sexually transmitted diseases, could lead to long term serious illnesses, so testing may be imperative. HIV testing should also be considered as well as screening for syphilis, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis, on an as-needed basis.
There are also tests designed strictly for women that occur less frequently than once a year. For example, if you’re 65 or older your doctor may recommend a bone density scan. This is an X-ray that tracks your propensity to have a bone fracture due to osteoporosis. Depending on your age, mammograms (an imaging of the breast) may be performed annually or every two years.
Doctors give women aged 40 to 44 the option to start annual mammograms, but women aged 45 to 54 should get them every year. If you’re 55 or older, a mammogram every two years is recommended. Your doctor may also refer you for a colonoscopy, which is a screening process for colorectal cancer if you’re age 45 or older.
What Should You Expect at Your Yearly Gynecological Visit?
A comprehensive gynecological exam should focus first on your medical history along with your family history to learn more about the kinds of diseases and illnesses that are common in your genetic tree. You’ll talk about allergies and any pain or problems you might be having.
A basic physical exam is performed, setting a baseline for characteristics such as weight and height. Your blood pressure and temperature will be measured. The doctor will listen to your lungs and heart and feel the thyroid gland in your throat. Then you’ll lay back on the table and the doctor will conduct a breast and pelvic exam along with a pap smear.
You’ll also talk with the clinician about your periods, sexual activity, history of pregnancy, contraception, any gynecological problems you might be experiencing, and more. Your doctor will be carefully watching for any signs of illness such as:
- Anything unusual with the breasts
- Missed periods or any abnormal bleeding
- Painful intercourse
- Pelvic bloating, tenderness, or pain
- Problems with the bowels or urine
- Symptoms of menopause
It can be difficult sometimes to talk about your reproductive and sexual health, but your gynecologist is professionally trained to provide answers that will help you stay healthy. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to talk with your doctor about anything that you’re worried about. The chances are high that the doctor has been asked these questions many times before. Your gynecologist is here to help you stay healthy and enjoy your sexual and reproductive health to the fullest.