The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) affirms that all women should have an annual OB/GYN exam. This will ensure the early detection and treatment of any new health issues, as well as prevent any future problems from happening.
When to Start Seeing an Obstetrician or Gynecologist
The ACOG advises that the initial gynecological visit occurs between the ages of 13 to 15. Yearly breast and abdominal exams should begin at age 19, with yearly Pap smears beginning at 21. Women over 30 that have had routine normal Pap results can have a Pap smear every 2 years, but should still have an OB/GYN exam done every year.
The frequency of these exams could increase due to abnormal Pap results or if a woman is at a high risk for certain reproductive diseases.
What is in a Annual Exam?
An annual exam will always include the following:
An evaluation of your current health status.
This includes questions about your physical activity, sexual practices, and alcohol and drug usage.
The recording of vital signs.
The documentation of your height, weight, and blood pressure.
Hormone treatment options (for menopausal and pre-menopausal women)
Tobacco, alcohol, and drug use
What To Test For
The OB/GYN may also recommend particular types of vaccinations to assist with preventative care. The flu shot, Hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus, and measles are some of the vaccines which may be recommended.
In addition to vaccinations, OB/GYNs will likely perform STD tests. Sexually active adolescents and young women up to age 25 are suggested to undergo annual testing for Chlamydia and gonorrhea. Routine HIV tests are also recommended for most sexually active patients.
A pap smear (also known as a Pap test) is a test that can identify abnormal cells in the cervix. Cells are scraped from the opening of the cervix and examined through a microscope. Essentially, this is a screening test for cervical cancer.
Routine pap smears will detect cervical cancers early if performed annually. This test allows early diagnosis and treatment, halting the spread of cancer. Routine testing greatly decreases the chance of any abnormal cells being missed.
Although a pelvic exam is often performed in conjunction with a Pap smear, they are not the same thing. A pelvic exam checks the health of the vagina, uterus, and ovaries. Sometimes the rectum is also examined. When done yearly, in conjunction with the Pap smear, you can ensure that your reproductive organs are in optimum health.
If you’ve never had a pelvic exam before, expect some discomfort but no pain. The exam itself only takes around 10 minutes. If you have any questions during the exam, do not hesitate to ask. Keeping yourself informed keeps you engaged and in tune with your health.
While pelvic exams are typically a routine procedure, your doctor may suggest a pelvic exam if you’re undergoing particular symptoms, such as pain in the pelvis, unusual vaginal bleeding, skin changes, unusual discharge or urinary problems. A pelvic exam may assist the doctor in diagnosing your given symptoms.