It is normal for many women to feel nervous or uncertain before their visit to the gynecologist. It means accepting the fact that you have stepped from girlhood into womanhood. A gynecologist helps you listen to your body more carefully. With regular gynecological appointments, you can take control of your physical, sexual, and reproductive well-being including – birth control, childbirth, and menopause. An ob-gyn also screens for cancer, treat infections, and perform surgery for pelvic organ or urinary tract problems.
To take the fear out of your annual appointments, here are some things you can expect and how you can prepare-
When should you start your gynecologic checkups?
Your first appointment will likely occur between 13 and 15 years old. Some women wait to start their gynecological examinations until they have sexual intercourse for the first time, or until they have a symptom or problem such as an abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal burning, strong menstrual cramps or irregular periods. However, the sooner you start, the better.
What will happen at your first gynecological appointment?
Your first appointment is usually very simple, and your doctor will spend time getting to know you. The doctor will inquire about you and your family’s medical history and your sexual health. It is important to share correct information.
What are gynecological exams?
There are four types of tests that you can undergo during your visit. Each type depends on the length of your first appointment, age, sexual history and whether or not you have shown any particular symptoms.
How should you prepare for your first appointment?
First, choose a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Ask for the appointment on a day when you know you will not be having your period. Ask about anything you’re unclear of. If it helps, write down a list of the things that concern you: your vaginal health, contraception, unusual pain in your breasts, questions about your menstrual period, etc.
Here are some things to expect during your annual appointment. The four kinds of examinations are:
General health check-up: Your nurse weighs you and takes your blood pressure. You may also have blood and urine tests.
Physical exam: You’re asked general questions about your personal and family health history. Your nurse takes you into the exam room and asks you to undress. You’re given a gown that opens to the front and a sheet that covers your lap.
Pelvic exam: To perform the test, your gynecologist will ask you to lie on the exam table with your feet in special stirrups and your legs open so he/ she is able to examine your vagina. Using gloves, the gynecologist will check your vulva or the outside of your vagina, to rule out signs of infection. Next, your gynecologist examines inside your vagina using a speculum, a device that holds the vagina open. You might feel some pressure during this exam, but it shouldn’t be painful. This is to assess their size, see if there are cysts present, etc. It can be a bit uncomfortable, but if you’re relaxed the examination is usually not painful.
Pap smear: A Pap test is done during your pelvic exam. Your doctor removes cell samples from your cervix using a small brush. These cells are sent to a lab and checked for cervical cancer and other abnormalities. Pap refers to the scraping off of a few cells that cover your cervix. The doctor uses a special brush and then sends the sample to the laboratory to check for the presence of abnormal cells.
Internal bimanual exam: Your doctor places one or two gloved fingers in your vagina and the other hand on top of your lower abdomen, to feel your cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
STD tests: In case sexually active, you will be tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. To test for STDs, your doctor takes a swab of tissue during your pelvic exam or orders blood tests.
Breast examination: Your doctor will check your breasts to detect whether there are any lumps, abnormal discharge or other abnormalities with your breasts.
Apart from annual visits, do let your doctor know about any new problems, such as irregular bleeding, or any discomfort. You should see your gynecologist on an annual basis to maintain good vaginal health.