Deciding when to see a gynecologist is an important healthcare question for women and girls. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends scheduling a first gynecological appointment, or wellness exam, between the ages of 13 and 15. Routine wellness exams with an OB/GYN provider are recommended for adult women.
Knowing what to expect during an appointment and which symptoms require a visit to the OB/GYN are important for health at every stage of a woman’s life.
What to Expect During an Appointment
Wellness exams are a normal, natural part of maintaining women’s health. It’s helpful to be mentally and physically prepared for a visit with a gynecologist, especially during a girl’s first appointment or a woman’s first visit with a new provider.
“My advice to women is to consider seeing a gynecologist anytime they wonder if they should,” says Dr. Meredith Donnelly. “A good rule to go by is, if you are curious about whether or not to see a gynecologist, you should make an appointment. We often can dissect out problems that may or may not be women’s health related. The other important point is that gynecologic concerns often overlap with endocrine/hormonal or other specialist areas. We can coordinate care with other providers to be your home base to help you navigate whatever concerns you may have.”
Here’s what to expect during a gynecological examination:
- General wellness check. To begin, a nurse or doctor will record your weight, blood pressure and heart rate.
- Medical history. A provider may ask questions about menstrual cycles, sexual activity and health history. This can also be an opportunity to discuss family planning and fertility. Even if the questions feel uncomfortable, answering honestly is important for getting the best healthcare possible.
- Change your clothes. You’ll undress from the waist down. A sheet is provided to cover up with. Some providers may conduct a breast exam. You’ll scoot to the edge of the exam table and place each foot into a stirrup.
- External exam. Your doctor will examine your vulva for any signs of illness or infection.
- An internal exam, often called a pelvic exam, is next. A doctor will insert two fingers into your vagina and press on your belly to check your abdominal organs and the position and size of the uterus. They will also check for a healthy vagina and cervix.
Women should begin getting Pap smear at age 21. They should continue getting them every three years, according to ACOG recommendations. Pap tests are conducted during a pelvic exam. A doctor uses a speculum to hold open the walls of the vagina and expose the cervix. A speculum may be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful. A doctor uses a small brush-like instrument to take cells from the cervix. These cells are sent for testing to check for any abnormalities.
When to See a Gynecologist Based on Symptoms
Aside from a regular wellness exam, usually scheduled annually, certain symptoms might tell you when to make an appointment to see a gynecologist right away. A provider can confirm the accuracy of an at-home pregnancy test and offer an accurate diagnosis and treatment for a range of conditions. Symptoms best evaluated by an OB/GYN include:
- Bleeding or pain after sexual intercourse
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Itching or pain in the vagina or vulva
- Pelvic pain
- Testing for sexually transmitted infections
- Unusual vaginal discharge or odor
- Urogynecology or bladder issues
- Yeast infections and bacterial vaginitis
Need an OB/GYN? Find a women’s health provider at St. Elizabeth Physicians.