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9 things to expect from your well-woman exam

Have you ever wondered what exactly happens at a “well-woman exam”? While every patient’s annual visit will vary slightly, you can expect at least some of the same procedures and discussions to take place, says Kevin Edmonds, M.D., a Piedmont obstetrician and gynecologist. 

Here are nine things you can expect at your next well-woman exam: 

1. Overall wellness checkup

Your healthcare team will ask about your family history, check your vital signs, and perform other medical screenings. Although well-woman exams are important, Dr. Edmonds says that women still need regular physical exams from their primary care doctor because not every gynecologist will do the same tests.

2. Pelvic exam

Dr. Edmonds says many patients are confused about what a pelvic exam entails.

“A lot of women equate that with a pap smear,” he says. 

But there are many reasons to have a pelvic exam that have nothing to do with pap smears, which check for abnormal cells in the cervix. 

A physician can do a pelvic exam to check for signs of illness of the:

  • Vulva

  • Cervix

  • Uterus

  • Ovaries

  • Fallopian tubes

  • Bladder

  • Rectum

3. Pap smear

Recent guidelines recommend women have their first pap smear at age 21, Dr. Edmonds says. After that, they should get one every three years, but this interval depends on each woman’s unique risk factors.

4. Contraception and family planning

A well-woman exam is a good opportunity to talk to your physician about your birth control needs or plans to become pregnant. They can recommend prenatal vitamins and address concerns you may have.

5. Hormone changes

No matter what age women are, Dr. Edmonds recommends they share any issues that may be related to hormones. That includes emotional and psychological concerns for women of all ages.

“It’s definitely something they should speak out about,” he says. 

Patients who face hormonal changes, he adds, do not necessarily need supplementary hormones. 

6. Tests for sexually transmitted infections

You should be tested for sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active and you and your partner are not monogamous. Dr. Edmonds says that regular testing for HIV is particularly important for everyone. 

7. Breast health

Your doctor will perform a clinical breast exam during your appointment to check for lumps or changes in your breasts. If you are over the age of 40, they will talk to you about scheduling a mammogram.

8. Cancer screenings

There are certain cancers your gynecologist can screen for, such as cervical cancer and breast cancer. They can also recommend a colon cancer screening for appropriate patients, as well as vaccinations like the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

9. Q&A with your physician

“Even though they may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, what women prevent by doing these exams is a lot more valuable than complications they might have to go through down the line,” Dr. Edmonds says. 

He recommends patients be vocal during appointments and address any concerns they have, even if they seem minor. 

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