If you are an individual with breasts, a vulva, and/or a uterus, it’s important to have a regular exam that is all about you, your body, and your reproductive health. These exams, also known as annual exams, gynecological exams, wellness exams, or pelvic exams, should begin around ages 13 to 15. Each visit varies depending on your age, sexual history, and medical history, so it’s good to be prepared and know what to expect.
Basics of Every Exam
Not every wellness visit will include tests and special exams. It could simply be a time to talk with your doctor plus get a regular physical checkup. Your doctor or nurse will record your height, weight, and blood pressure. You will also answer questions and have discussions regarding your reproductive, sexual, and medical history. Based on your conversation or your age, you may require additional tests and specialized exams during your appointment.
Vaccines, Exams, and Tests
Each wellness visit you have is tailored to your needs during that time. If you’re under 18, it may include vaccinations, such as the HPV vaccine. Other exams, including pelvic exams, Pap smears, clinical breast examinations, and eventually, mammograms, will be performed as you get older.
- Pelvic exams: your doctor or nurse examines your external and internal reproductive organs. During the exam, they look for any abnormalities such as cysts, warts, infections, or other possible issues.
- Pap smears: around the age of 21, you will begin receiving Pap smears. During the internal portion of the pelvic exam, your doctor or nurse will take cell samples of your cervix. This is done to help detect cervical cancer, and depending on your results, it should be done every 3 years during your 20s and every 5 years between 30-65. If you have abnormal results, it may require further testing.
- Clinical breast examinations: your doctor will examine your breasts to determine if there are any irregularities and feel for lumps. This is an early screening to identify any signs of breast cancer, and you should have one every 1 to 3 years in your 20s and 30s.
- Mammograms: once you turn 40, you should begin receiving mammograms every 1 to 2 years. This is a type of X-ray of the breast that can detect breast cancer early and find lumps that are too small for clinical breast exams.
Discussions with Your Doctor and Nurse
To get the most out of your appointments, you need to be comfortable with your nurses and doctor. You should build a strong, trusting relationship with them; be honest about your health during your visits to get better, more personalized care. Here are some topics that could be discussed during each of your appointments:
- Your menstrual cycle: Is it heavy, painful, or irregular?
- Medical conditions: Do you or your family members have a history of medical conditions?
- Sexual activity: Are you sexually active? Are your partners men, women, or both? How many partners?
- Birth Control: Are you on birth control or looking to get on birth control?
- Pregnancy: Could you be pregnant or are you planning to get pregnant soon?
- STDs: Are you concerned you have an STD and need a test? Discuss ways to prevent contracting an STD.
- Mental/emotional health: Are there any concerns about your relationships? Are there any worries about your mental or emotional health you want to discuss?
Your providers are here to meet your health needs in a non-judgemental manner. Consider transferring to a new provider if you are not fully comfortable being honest with your doctor or nurse. This is an important part of getting the most out of your health exams.
Meet our gynecology team today and begin your wellness exams. Schedule an appointment today.