Whether your annual exam is performed by a primary care physician or an OB/GYN, it is important that yearly visits include a review of your gynecological health. These visits are an opportunity to treat any new or ongoing problems and prevent future problems.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that annual exams include pelvic exams and pap smears, begin at age 21. While guidelines for pap smears have changed over the years, women are encouraged not to cancel their annual exam — even if it’s not their year for a pap test.
Here are five reasons to schedule your annual exam:
- Make sure you are healthy – A standard physical exam includes noting height, weight, body mass index and blood pressure. Your provider may also suggest other tests based on your family’s health history and update any needed vaccinations. By checking these measures each year, it helps the provider identify any significant changes from year-to-year.Your yearly visit is also a good time to check for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV if you have more than one sexual partner. A bimanual exam will check the size, shape and mobility of the uterus, and check for ovarian cysts, fibroid tumors and insure your overall uterine health.
- Discuss abnormal bleeding – According to ACOG, abnormal uterine bleeding drives approximately one-third of all office visits among peri and post-menopausal women. If your period has changed over the past year or you are experiencing heavy bleeding or cramping during your periods, please discuss these issues with your provider. There are several treatment options available to improve your quality of life.
- Start, continue or stop birth control AND preconception planning – There can be many reasons to start, continue or stop birth control. If you are currently on prescription birth control, your provider may insist you come in for a yearly visit to check for any side-affects. For those choosing to start birth control, your provider can explain the best options for you based upon your age, health and whether you plan to have additional children in the future. If you are considering stopping the use of birth control, you may want to discuss any changes you may experience as a result of stopping.
Also discuss with your provider any plans for an upcoming pregnancy. Pre-conceptual counseling is an important aspect of obstetrics. Subjects such as your current health, nutrition and vitamin/folic acid recommendations can be discussed in preparation for a healthy pregnancy.
- Discuss and/or treat menopausal symptoms – As your body enters menopause, you may experience many side-affects such as: hot flashes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness and low libido (sex drive). Your provider can discuss treatment options that can help control these symptoms and answer any questions your might have.
- Address personal concerns – This is your opportunity to ask the questions! If you’re nervous, write down your questions in advance. Some items that you should address with your provider: pelvic pain, any changes in your breasts, abnormal discharge or infections, sex-related questions and painful intercourse. Healthcare providers suggest setting your appointment for 1 to 2 weeks after your period and ask you to refrain from sexual intercourse for at least 24 hours prior to your appointment.