The thought of having your first gynecology exam might be nerve-wracking, but it should be a straightforward and quick procedure. In addition, it is an important part of maintaining your overall health. Hopefully, once you understand the purpose of the annual well-woman exam and what it involves, you will see that there is nothing to worry or be embarrassed about.
Here’s what women should know about gynecological exams:
During a routine gynecological visit, expect to cover a wide range of topics. Your gynecologist should care about your general wellbeing, so it's not unusual for questions to go well beyond gynecological issues.
Your doctor may ask about:
- domestic violence
- social habits
- family history
- current health
- sexual activity
- menstrual cycle
- STD prevention
- drug use
Some of these questions will be quite personal in nature, but it is important that you answer honestly. Don't let shyness be a health risk. You should have complete confidence that what you say is kept confidential.
Teenagers who are not sexually active usually don’t need screening for sexually transmitted diseases. Women under 21 do not need invasive vaginal exams unless they have specific conditions or medical risks.
A Pap Smear checks for precancerous or cancerous cells. This is a quick procedure that involves taking a sample of your cervical cells and testing them to verify that they are healthy. Your doctor might perform a Pap smear, which is a test for cervical cancer. This involves the patient lying on her back and placing her feet in supports called stirrups. The doctor inserts an instrument called a speculum to keep the vagina open enough so that a swab can be inserted to scrape a small sample of cells from the cervix.
Pap smears used to be done annually, but guidelines now recommend them every three to five years for women 21 and older. It might feel like a strong pinch. This annual test is very important, and it is necessary even if you are not experiencing any symptoms and do not have any personal concerns. However, you will not know the results of the Pap Smear test at your appointment. The cell sample must be sent to a laboratory where it is carefully examined. Your results will take a few weeks to get back to you.
After the Pap test, your health care provider will remove the speculum and perform a manual exam to check the health of your ovaries and uterus. This portion of the exam involves inserting a gloved and lubricated finger in to the vagina with one hand. With the other hand, they will press down on your stomach. You will feel pressure and some light discomfort is possible, but always tell your gynecologist how you are feeling throughout the examination.
The doctor should also perform a thorough breast exam which should be brief and painless. Your health care provider will manually palpate your breast, feeling for lumps, thickening, or discharge. They should also teach you how to give yourself a personal breast exam.
You will be asked to provide a urine sample. Urine is used to check for kidney health, various infections, and pregnancy.
Your annual gynecological exam is also a time for you to ask any questions that you may have. There are no wrong questions to ask when it comes to your personal health, and the more knowledge you have about your body, the more confidence you can have about taking care of it.
Schedule your well-woman exam with any of the doctors at WHASN Central. We're here to answer your questions and provide the best care possible.