Your well-woman visit is all about you, your body, and your reproductive health. Well-woman visits may also be called gynecological exams, pelvic exams, or annual exams.
The well-woman exams are an annual preventive health care examination for women. At your well-woman visit, your OB-GYN will perform a complete physical exam along with a pelvic exam, breast exam, pap test and screen for diseases. Typically, your weight and blood pressure are taken as well. They will also talk about your lifestyle behaviors, reproductive goals, and any concerns you may have about your sexual health.
We recommend that women have their first well woman exam, as a preventive service, at age 21 or three years after beginning intercourse, whichever comes first.
During the well-woman exams, your doctor would like to learn more about your overall health and your sexual health. We want to help you get the medical care you need in order to fulfill your family planning goals. There are many different types of contraception available.
Birth control pills. Oral contraceptives are daily hormone pills that prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation. Most birth control pills are administered in monthly packs. It is important to take your pill around the same time every day. Other methods of hormonal birth control include vaginal rings, implants, or patches.
Intrauterine Devices (IUD). This is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted directly into your uterus. The two main types of IUD are non-hormonal (Paragard) and hormonal (Mirena). Although both work in different ways, they are the most highly effective forms of birth control and can prevent pregnancy for several years. They are also very easy to remove once pregnancy is desired.
Bilateral Tubal Ligation (BTL). BTL is what’s known as having your “tubes tied.” This is a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are sealed off, or clipped with clamps, to prevent the woman’s eggs from meeting any sperm. Its effects are generally considered permanent, but in rare cases, the surgery can be reversed.
STD Counseling and Testing
Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are more common than most people think. The important thing about STDs is to get tested regularly so that treatment can get initiated early and further transmission can be prevented.
At your well-woman exam, we can discuss your sexual history and your concerns about possible exposure to STIs. If you’re experiencing any symptoms, like itching, pain, or discharge, take note of them prior to your exam and bring them to our attention. We can test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, herpes, HPV (human papillomavirus), HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Most bacterial infections can be cleared up with antibiotics. Some viral STIs are incurable but can be managed and suppressed with treatment. If you test positive for an STI, we can discuss your treatment options and ways you can manage your sex life to minimize the risk of transmission to your partner.
Pap Test and HPV Testing
Pap smears test the cervix for any abnormal cells. These abnormal cells can be precancerous or cancerous. HPV testing, which is conducted with a Pap smear, checks the cervix for the human papillomavirus. This virus is what causes abnormal cells in the cervix. If pap smears are done routinely, then abnormal cells can usually be eliminated before they become cancerous.
Well-woman exams can literally save your life, so do not put them off.
The HPV vaccine delivers a small amount of the inactive virus to guard against four types of HPV, which cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer and 90% of cases of genital warts. It is administered in three doses: the second 2 months after the first, and the third 6 months after the first.
Because HPV is widely transmitted in the US and it’s highly linked to cervical cancers, we recommend getting an HPV vaccination if you already are, or are planning to become, sexually active.
Most health care doctors recommend the vaccine for girls age 11-12, but the vaccine can be administered to girls beginning at age 9. This may sound young to start thinking about STI prevention, but getting vaccinated before any sexual activity is a key component of preventing the spread of the virus.
While the well-woman visit is often talked about as a single, annual exam, it doesn’t always stop there. For example, if you’ve got a medical history of breast cancer in your family, your health care provider might decide that you should get a mammogram.
A mammogram is a common diagnostic test to screen for breast cancer. Regular mammograms are a key part of early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. If you’re 40 years or older, the American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year. Women who are 20 years and older should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years.