When should I see a gynecologist?
Every year, approximately 13,000 individuals are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 of those result in death in the United States. Annual preventative screenings can reduce the number of cases each year and help detect abnormal cells early. Therefore, it’s crucial to know when to begin certain screenings during an individual’s lifetime, and a gynecologist can help you stay on track with your health and support you during every step.
A woman’s initial gynecologist visit should occur between ages 13-15 when your menstrual cycle begins. “Providers can start educating patients regarding preventative care and address any gynecologic or reproductive health concerns or questions,” explains Dr. Jourdan Schmitz, an Obstetrics and Gynecology physician who practices with St. Clair Medical Group OB/GYN.
Reasons to visit your gynecologist annually
- Birth control often supports other health-related conditions i.e., acne, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), lower risk of cancers, and more. It’s important to chat with an expert to see which birth control method is right for you.
- Clinical breast exam can provide additional reassurance from an experienced professional when completing frequent self-breast-exams to feel for or see any abnormal lumps that may be of concern.
- Discussing “Flo” with your provider and having a detailed conversation regarding your cycle can tell you a lot about your health. Your gynecologist will help guide you through the proper treatments steps that work best for you and your body.
- Leaking is not a subject that women enjoy talking about but know it’s an incredibly common condition. Your provider can help you through a treatment plan to minimize this problem.
- Mental health and wellness is something that is often left astray. It may be early in life, postpartum, or menopause driven but it’s important to have someone you feel comfortable talking to about the way you’re feeling.
- Preconception counseling is key in the childbearing years of your life. If you’re planning a family it’s important to think ahead to lead to a successful pregnancy.
- Preventive care can range from healthy dieting guidance to routine screenings to mental health support.
- Vaccinations can be administered by your gynecologist. It’s important to consider getting the HPV vaccine between ages 11-12 which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
During the ages of 15-21, a routine visit is usually more conversational, and a pelvic exam is not necessary at this time. During these early appointments, it gives you time to know your physician and begin making a connection and building trust. Dr. Schmitz adds, “I recommend all patients and their partners get the Gardasil vaccine, the vaccine that fights against HPV, preferably in early adolescence. This intervention has shown a decrease in the risk of cervical cancer, as the vast majority of cervical cancers are linked to this virus. It’s important to talk with your gynecologist to ask questions and express any concerns toward the listed side effects before receiving the vaccine.”
The Turning Point
Once a patient turns 21 years old, it’s strongly recommended women receive their first Pap test. A Pap test involves collecting cells from your cervix to test for any abnormal or cancerous cells. Experts generally recommend that women repeat the Pap test every one to five years depending on age and risk factors. “The frequency of screening always depends on the individual health and wellness history,” mentions Dr. Schmitz.
Family Planning Years
In this stage a breast exam, abdominal exam and pelvic exam are strongly encouraged. Your gynecologist will check for abnormalities such as lumps or painful areas to test further. In addition, many individuals between ages 22-44 are interested in pregnancy prevention or becoming pregnant. Communication becomes a key factor in this stage and expressing what may work best for that patient in this particular time of their life.
The average age range is 50-52, but some women may start earlier or later. Hormones may fluctuate, leading to menopause symptoms such as
- Night sweats;
- Mood swings;
- And hot flashes
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guidelines suggest that women begin annual mammography screenings at age 40. Depending on family history and other risk factors, your provider may recommend starting routine screenings at an earlier age.
Ages 55 and above often have more health concerns and focus on hormone changes and skin conditions. Bone Density Screening (DEXA) typically begins at age 65 unless risk factors for low bone density are present prior to this age.
Dr. Schmitz says, “No individual is excited for their annual gynecology visit. In fact, we understand it may be uncomfortable for most patients. I try my best to get to know my patients and take the time to address each of their concerns carefully. I talk through each part of my exams and make sure to obtain consent each step of the way.”