Young women are far less likely to attend their annual gynecologic health visit than they were in decades past. There is no denying talking about gynecologic (GYN) health or issues “down there” can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s so important to the health and wellbeing of all women!
The American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics (ACOG) defines gynecology as the branch of medicine that involves care of the female reproductive system and breasts. Unlike obstetrics (the OB part of OB-GYN) which focuses on care during and surrounding pregnancy, gynecology pertains to ALL females throughout the course of their life, before, during and after childbearing years even if they have never had or plan to have children. While many people instantly associate gynecology with a pap smear (which is a very important part of it), gynecologists provide a wide array of care for women–
- GYN Cancer
- Sexual Health
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
Well Woman Visits
Like a primary care check up or dentist appointment, annual Well Woman visits should be a routine part of every woman’s preventive healthcare routine. ACOG recommends teens start seeing an OB-GYN between the ages of 13 and 15 and should continue throughout a woman’s life, even postmenpausal or post-hysterectomy.
Similar to any doctor appointment, your annual Well Woman visit will start with you filling out paperwork about your personal and medical history and any medications you are taking. A nurse will check your height, weight and blood pressure. Once your OB-GYN is in the exam room, they will ask you some follow up questions and will give you the chance to discuss anything on your mind – do not be embarrassed! Be sure you mention ANYTHING, no matter how small, you have noticed that doesn’t seem quite right… painful periods, changes in bathroom habits, cramps, abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, bloating, vaginal itching, painful sex, birth control options, etc.
After that, Well Woman visits vary a little depending on your age. Patients younger than 21 years old do not usually require a pelvic exam unless symptoms require it. Once you reach age 21, you’ll likely undergo a pelvic exam that allows the doctor to evaluate your reproductive organs as well as your external and internal vaginal region. Women between the age of 21-65 will also have breast exams, pap test, HPV test, and sexually transmitted disease screenings performed periodically.
If it has been more than 365 days since you had a gynecology check up in the last year, now is the time to get it scheduled. Visit our website to learn more or make an appointment today.
Maintaining Good GYN Health
While not all gynecologic issues are preventable, there are some things you can do to put yourself in the best position when it comes to GYN health.
- Attend Annual Well Woman Visits. A thorough pelvic exam, detailed history and discussion with your physician can detect things you may not have noticed or known were abnormal.
- Practice Safe Sex. Using condoms or reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk for sexually transmitted infections.
- Get the HPV Vaccine. HPV can cause cancers of the Cervix, vagina, and vulva in women. Its recommended people ages 12-26 get two doses of HPV vaccine, given 6 to 12 months apart. The sooner the better!
- Live a Healthy Lifestyle. The best thing a woman can do to protect herself is to live an overall healthy lifestyle. All the things we’re constantly told to do — eat lots of vegetables, get enough sleep, decrease stress, avoid smoking, minimize alcohol intake, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy body weight.
- Know Your Normal. No one knows your body better than you, so it is important to pay attention and know your normal so you can recognize when and if something is off.
- Know Your Family History. Multiple GYN cancers can be related to your DNA or your genes. Try to get to know your family history and what cancers your family members may have been affected by.
Concerning GYN Symptoms
Many important gynecological signs and symptoms can be easily overlooked or written off as “normal” period symptoms. If you experience any of the following symptoms talk to your gynecologist right away or make an appointment with one of ours:
- Pelvic Pain or Pressure
- Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding or Discharge
- Abdominal or Back Pain
- Changes in Bathroom Habits
- Itching or Burning of the Vulva
- Changes in Vulva Color or Skin, such as a rash, sores or warts.
To learn more about GYN health or to schedule an appointment, visit our website.