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An annual gynecological exam is an essential component of every woman’s health routine. Well-woman visits are also called gynecological exams, pelvic exams, or annual exams. Many women begin receiving an annual gynecological exam at the age of 21 or once they become sexually active. Gynecological exams may address different issues or concerns at different ages and stages of life.
Many women schedule an annual gynecological exam once per year but if you are experiencing any symptoms that you are concerned about or which you want to have examined it is important to get a gynecological exam as soon as possible. Symptoms that you may need to schedule a gynecological exam include vaginal or pelvic pain, menstrual cycle irregularities, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, lumps, sores, itching, tenderness, swelling, or unusual breast changes.
What to Expect During Your Gynecological Exam?
- Physical Assessment (weight, height)
- A Time to Ask Your Medical Provider Questions
- General Health Questions (medical history, sexual history, family health history)
- Discussion of family planning options if applicable (fertility options, birth control options, etc.)
- External and Internal Pelvic Exam
- Pap Smear
- Breast Exam
- Urine Sample
- Lab Work (blood work, etc.)
Depending on your risks for cervical cancer and your pap exam history, your provider may not recommend that you get a pap smear every year. This doesn’t mean you’ll want to put off your yearly appointment: your gynecological visit is an important source of primary care. A yearly visit to your primary care provider includes important well care that can help protect your health and well-being including:
Clinical Breast Exam: Breast self-exams can sometimes be useful in early cancer detection, and it’s important to be familiar with the way your breasts feel at different points in your menstrual cycle so you can take note of any changes. However, a yearly clinical breast exam–along with mammograms after age 40–should be the cornerstone of your breast wellness plan. Research has shown that this is by far the most effective early breast cancer detection strategy.
Other Screenings and Topics Your provider Will Discuss
1. Reproductive goals and birth control methods
2. Vaccination to prevent HPV, Hepatitis and other STDs
3. Osteoporosis screening
4. Colon cancer screening
6. Preconception counseling
7. Screening for benign uterine and ovarian conditions
Good healthcare is a partnership between the health care provider and the patient. Having a yearly gynecological check-up, before you have a problem, is a great way to build a relationship with your provider. You can ask questions about your health at this appointment, ask for help understanding the latest women’s health studies, and follow-up with any changes in your body since your last exam such as fibroids, heavy menstrual bleeding issues, etc.