The importance of an annual well-woman exam can’t be understated. Women of all ages should see their gynecologist at least once a year, beginning at puberty and continuing through menopause and beyond.
These exams are centered around preventive screenings and education specific to you and your sexual and reproductive health. In addition, a well-woman appointment is the ideal time to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your body.
The all-female OB-GYN team at Ladies First Obstetrics & Gynecology understands the unique healthcare needs of women, as well as the demands and changes women deal with as they age. If you’re looking for women’s healthcare delivered by specially trained professionals who care about patient comfort and are sensitive to your needs, you’ve come to the right place.
What to Expect at Your Well-Woman Exam
As a woman, your healthcare needs change over time. Likewise, what occurs during your well-woman exam will depend on your stage of life and personal circumstances. In most cases, your well-woman exam will consist of a breast exam, pelvic exam, and occasionally a Pap test. An overall physical exam may also be included.
A clinical breast exam is performed by your Ladies First provider, who is trained to recognize signs of abnormal breast tissue. This is done to look for early signs of breast cancer, such as lumps and unusual discharge or skin texture. Your provider can also provide instructions on how to best conduct self-checks yourself at home. Depending on your age or risk factors for breast cancer, your gynecologist may also order a mammogram.
During a pelvic exam, your gynecologist will look for abnormalities and signs of infection or disease. There are three main areas inspected during a pelvic exam:
- Vulva: Your gynecologist will visually examine your vulva, which includes the outer and inner lips and opening to the vagina.
- Vaginal canal & cervix: Using a speculum, your doctor will examine the vagina (the canal leading to the cervix), as well as the cervix. A sample of cervical tissue may be taken during the exam for biopsy in a lab.
- Uterus & ovaries: Your gynecologist will use gloved fingers to inspect the size, shape, and position of your uterus and ovaries, while gently pushing down on your abdomen.
A pelvic exam shouldn’t hurt, but it could be a little uncomfortable. If you are worried about discomfort during the exam, talk to your Ladies First provider beforehand – several things can help lessen your apprehension or discomfort during the exam, such as using a smaller speculum, ample lubricant, and proper positioning of your body during the exam for optimal comfort.
A Pap test – named after George Papanicolaou, the doctor noted for inventing it – is used to screen women for cancer of the cervix. During a pelvic exam, a sample of cervical tissue is gently removed for evaluation in a laboratory. How often you require a Pap test will depend on your age, risk factors for cervical cancer, and the results of previous tests. As is the case with many medical conditions, the earlier you can identify abnormal cervical tissue, the greater your chances of successful treatment.
While most cervical cancers stem from a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, not all do. That is why it’s important to have regular Pap tests despite whether you are sexually active or not.
Don’t Forget to Ask Questions!
Your well-woman visit is the perfect time to address a host of issues you may be concerned about, including:
- Birth control and safe sex
- Fertility and family planning
- Menstrual issues, including heavy, painful, or irregular periods
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic pain
- Sexual function
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – the most common being chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, syphilis, and hepatitis
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Vaginal symptoms you may be experiencing, such as itching, discomfort, discharge, or foul smell
- Yeast infections
Your gynecologist can test for and treat a wide variety of medical concerns, including menopause symptoms. For example, your gynecologist may order advanced testing, such as bone density scans for osteoporosis and mammography for breast cancer. They can also use hormone replacement therapy to help treat hormone imbalances.
Well-Woman Focus, by Age
Here is what you might expect at a well-woman exam, based on your age:
Your well-woman exam may consist of a physical exam (rather than a pelvic exam), plus talking with your gynecologist about a variety of topics, such as your menstrual cycle, the HPV vaccine, birth control, safe sex, and STI testing (if the patient is sexually active or considering becoming sexually active).
Pap testing typically begins at the age of 21, whether a patient is sexually active or not. HPV testing may be included if a patient is sexually active, and the HPV vaccine may be administered if not previously received. Any birth control or family planning needs may be discussed and addressed.
Breast exams usually begin for women in their 30s.
Mammograms are recommended for most women by the age of 40. However, if you have a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer, your gynecologist may recommend you begin getting mammograms earlier. Most women experience menopause symptoms at about the age of 50, so managing the condition may be discussed and addressed at your well-woman exam, as well.
Schedule Your Well-Woman Exam Today
For the best results, try to schedule your well-woman exam when you are not having your menstrual period.
To make your appointment at Ladies First Obstetrics & Gynecology and Ladies First MedSpa, call us at (334) 671-9445 or toll-free at (877) 671-9445. You can also request an appointment now. We look forward to seeing you at one of our two convenient locations in Dothan and Enterprise, Alabama.