We all know women tend to put the needs of others before the needs of themselves. While this is one of the beautiful characteristics of us women, it’s also a concerning one! We need to take care of ourselves. Just as maintaining the routine upkeep of your own car can promote its efficiency and reliability, keeping up with your own health ensures your body’s efficiency and reliability. Taking the time to care for yourself and obtaining regular preventive annual gynecology exams (GYN) and screenings will ensure optimal wellness at any age.
Gynecology Exam Recommendations
Women’s health care has, deservedly, received growing attention within the last decade. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently formed an expert panel to review advancements in care and make updated recommendations for the optimal promotion of women’s health. Those recommendations include two key guidelines:
- Age of the first GYN visit – A young woman’s first GYN visit should occur between the ages of 13 and 15. This visit does NOT usually involve a pelvic exam, but is geared toward education in areas such as, but not limited to, sexuality, relationship issues, sexually transmitted diseases, growth and development, vaccinations, test/vaccination recommendations, the development of good health habits, and avoiding bad habits such as smoking and substance use. This gives teenage girls an early start to good gynecologic health.
- Frequency of visits – Women should receive at least one preventive care visit per year beginning in adolescence and continuing across the lifespan to ensure an opportunity to address all the recommended preventive health services for women. Insurance companies typically cover an annual well-visit with your GYN, and so this is an affordable recommendation as well.
My Annual Exam is for my Pap, right?
Perhaps the most well-known reason for a GYN visit is to undergo a Pap smear. The Pap smear is a screening test used to help detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cervical cells. In 2012, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, along with other professional organizations, reviewed and revised guidelines to address cervical cancer screening and Pap smear protocols. Given updated research on the role that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) plays in cervical problems, some recommendations changed significantly – including frequency of pap smears.
At their most basic level, new recommendations state that women between 21-29 should obtain a pap every 3 years and women 30-65 should obtain a pap every 3-5 years. While you may not require this screening test on an annual basis, you should still visit your gynecologist once a year for other important health screenings and education unique to women.
Benefits of an Annual Gynecology Exam
The value of an annual gynecology exam extends beyond just your pap smear. Preventive medicine is the best medicine, and your gynecologist is trained to help detect potential problems and risk factors in your health. During your annual visit, your provider will screen for things such as, but not limited to:
- Breast cancer
- Bone disease/osteoporosis
- Bladder disease
- Sexually transmitted diseases
Your practitioner will conduct a pelvic exam, where he or she will examine your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and bladder, to identify any potential concerns.
Your visit is also necessary to help upkeep the proper form of contraception (or birth control), if applicable to you. Patients often need to change their method of birth control methods or alter dosages. Birth control that is not well-supervised could put women at risk for unplanned pregnancy.
Addressing age-specific needs.
As a woman, you have very specific health needs across your lifespan, and your GYN practitioner is trained to identify those age-specific needs and to address them. Categories of care, such as, but not limited to, fertility, hormonal changes, substance abuse, domestic violence, preventive testing, mood disorders, infections, and menstrual issues, need to be individualized based on what the woman needs at that time in their life. Did you know your gynecologist can help with all of this? While these are not all gynecological issues, your practitioner specializes in women’s health and can refer you to an appropriate specialist for any care or treatment they are unable to provide.
Check out the graphic below for more detail on the broad scope your GYN practitioner can assist with.
||Age-specific issues that can be addressed with your GYN
- Gender identity
- Sexual behavior/responsibility/contraception
- Dating/assault, violence
- Preparing for college, adulthood, life after high school and how gyn health is affected
- Dating/long-term relationships
- Fertility issues/preparing for family life
- Planning for pregnancy, issues between or after pregnancies
- General health needs, family planning, work/life balance
- Managing GYN issues/problems
- Cessation of fertility/transitioning mentally
- Managing the changes with menopause
- Work/life balance and maintaining GYN health
- Managing common GYN problems
- Changing sexuality and intimacy issues
It’s All About You
Your gynecologic health provider is focused on maintaining your health and addressing your unique needs throughout your lifespan, and an annual visit ensures you will be screened appropriately, and more proactively manage health concerns for a better quality of life. At your visit, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and explore topics in a private, non-judgmental environment. However, the journey to gynecologic health is not found in one annual exam, but rather on a long-term plan put in place by you and your provider as a team. Schedule a visit with your GYN to kick off this partnership toward lifelong health!
Author: Karen Katz, Certified Nurse Midwife, Brunswick Hills OB/GYN.
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