It’s time to reframe how you think about your annual trip to the gynecologist. While many women do not look forward to their yearly pelvic exam, this appointment is much more than that—it’s a time dedicated to you and your wellness.
“Your annual exam is a preventative care visit and that is why it is important, said Dr. Kristin Brigger, an obstetrician and gynecologist at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, an HCA Houston Healthcare affiliated hospital. "Seeing your OB/GYN annually can allow your doctor to catch things early so medical issues can be addressed before they progress to serious issues."
The well–woman visit is also an important opportunity to address health needs or concerns with your doctor, including pelvic pain, incontinence, irregular periods, contraceptive needs, sexual health concerns and many other factors that contribute to your overall health.
And for most women, the visit is free; annual well–woman visits are considered a preventive measure and covered at no cost under most insurance providers.
What to expect at a well–woman visit
This visit is essentially a checkup. Your doctor will start by asking you questions related to your health, covering topics such as:
- Personal and family health history
- Mental health history, including anxiety and depression
- Sexual health and relationships
- Eating and exercise habits
- Alcohol and other substance use
This is a good time to bring up any of your own questions or concerns: birth control options, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), menopause, preparing for pregnancy or other issues you would like to address.
Next, your doctor will perform a physical exam. Your age, sexual history and medical history will determine which screenings and exams you need during your visit. These may include:
- Breast exam – to check breast lumps, skin changes or any irregularities
- Fasting lab work, which is optional, includes the evaluation of your kidney and liver function, checking for thyroid disease and diabetes and measuring your cholesterol levels
- Pelvic exam – to survey reproductive organs, ovaries, uterus and cervix. Including a:
- Pap smear every 2–3 years, depending on age and previous results
- STD screening
- Physical exam – to measure blood pressure, pulse and weight
You can also receive many other screenings free of charge at this appointment, including blood pressure, cholesterol, colorectal cancer and osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about which screenings are right for you.
Don't put off scheduling your well–woman visit
Every woman should attend a well–woman visit every year. The screenings and services provided can help you get the answers you need to improve your own health and wellbeing and identify problems early, such as heart disease or cervical cancer. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, regular pap smears lower the number of new cervical cancers and deaths by more than 80%, and the survival rate increases exponentially for cervical and ovarian cancer when caught early.
"Some women may not be coming in for their annual well-woman visit due to fear that they will contract COVID-19 while they are at their doctor's office," said Dr. Brigger. "HCA Houston Healthcare is taking extra steps to ensure that patients remain safe so that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is minimal."
Don't put off prioritizing your health. If it has been more than 12 months since your last well–woman visit, schedule an appointment with your provider today.