For many women, the thought of attending an annual gynecological exam can bring up feelings of embarrassment or anxiety, which, unfortunately, may lead to avoidance. Some women choose not to visit their gynecologist for modesty reasons or possibly because they are worried something may be wrong. In reality, annual gynecological exams are incredibly important for all women.
The benefits of annual exams far outweigh the dread that many women experience. We’ll discuss why gynecological exams are needed, what to expect during your exam, and why it’s essential to get them on a yearly basis.
About Annual Exams
Annual gynecological exams are often referred to as “well women exams,” or “well women check-ups,” to help reassure and reduce any anxiety caused by going to the gynecologist. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends yearly visits for annual exams.
When to get annual gynecological exams?
- Typically, the first annual exam should occur between the age of 13 to 15. Pelvic exams are usually not required during these first visits.
- Around the age of 19, many annual exams will include pelvic exams and also check for breast and abdominal issues.
- Pap smear testing begins at age 21.
Some women may feel that you’re only supposed to go to an annual exam to collect a pap smear, which isn’t entirely true. While many women will receive a pap smear at three or five-year intervals, gynecological exams check for more and offer an appropriate time for you to discuss any changes, experiences, or concerns about your gynecological health. These exams also provide an excellent time to check for preventable diseases such as cervical cancer. The risk of cervical cancer does decrease with age, but as women get older, they often have an increased risk for other cancers like uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer—all of which an annual exam can assess.
During an annual exam, you’ll have a comprehensive medical history taken to assess any potential risk for familial cancer and other hereditary health issues. You will also have a physical exam performed which checks vital stats like blood pressure, height, and weight. Depending upon the age of the patient, there will be a pelvic exam, and a breast exam conducted, as well as, evaluation of symptoms, screenings, and counseling. Furthermore, if a patient is sexually active, a provider may test for common sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.
Counseling is an integral part of an annual exam. It’s crucial to be as honest as possible with your provider so that they can help with any issues that arise. While talking with your provider, they may address other topics such as:
- Physical Activity
- Sexual Practices
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Menstrual Cycle
- Urinary Symptoms
- Pelvic Symptoms
- Menopause Symptoms
- Screenings (cholesterol, diabetes, thyroid, colonoscopy, mammograms, etc.)
- Mental Health
- Tobacco Use
- Alcohol Use
- Drug Use
- Other Health Issues
5 Reasons Why Annual Exams are Important
Without an annual exam, patients run the risk of developing gynecological health and pelvic-related issues that could have either been prevented or stopped early-on, so they don’t turn into a more significant problem. Here are five reasons why it’s incredibly important to have your yearly check-up with your OBGYN.
- Promote Patient-Provider Relations: Annual exams help promote provider-patient relationships where women can discuss reproductive development, menstrual cycles, ways to prevent pregnancy, prenatal care, and family planning. It’s especially important for patients to feel comfortable discussing anything with their OBGYN.
- Easy Shift in Care: Forming that bond with a patient-provider means that when you’re ready to make the shift from preventive care to prenatal care and family planning, you’ll already have that relationship developed and you’ll know you’ll be in good hands.
- Product Innovation: Attending your annual exam means you’ll be in-the-know about new gynecological innovations. With technology evolving at a fast pace, you’ll be able to learn about new diagnostic tests, preventative measures, and contraceptives such as permanent birth control which leaves you with more options to choose from when it comes to your body and your health.
- Update Your Health: Annual exams allow patients to catch up on vaccines missed during childhood or have additional screenings conducted to check for various health conditions. Plus, they are a good way for you to know what’s going on with your gynecological health.
- Prevent Future Issues: We hear stories all the time about preventative screenings saving someone's life, and it might just be yours. Annual exams check for symptoms such as unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge which may be signs of a disease in a later stage. With a myriad of preventative screenings and tests you’ll be able to take charge of your health by, hopefully, preventing a serious disease.
Get An Annual Exam At Metro OBGYN
Even if you don’t feel anything abnormal, it’s essential to be proactive and advocate for your gynecological healthcare. There should be no reason to feel any dread, anxiety, or worry about going to your exam. If you do, feel free to talk to your provider about those feelings as you’ll be in a caring, compassionate, and confidential environment. Your provider is there to help ease any discomfort by offering guidance to promote wellness and healthy gynecological habits.
Metro OBGYN is a leading Twin Cities obstetrics and gynecologist office featuring four locations that service East Metro-area residents. Visit your provider at Metro OBGYN to start seeing the benefits of yearly well women check-ups. While things may change in healthcare, one thing is for sure—you should schedule your annual exam before it’s too late!