The rate of advancement, research, and discovery in the medical field has not only improved the quality of life that we experience but has led to the curing of diseases, saving lives and preventing conditions unlike ever before. Aside from the incredible work done in the treatment of diseases and conditions, the preventative side of the field has come a long way as well.
Earlier detection and screening for countless health concerns now have doctors and patients armed with the invaluable asset of time on their side (in certain situations) and advanced information from the tests and screenings performed. Annual physicals are a recommended measure for all as a strong step towards preventative care. For women, a Well Woman’s Exam includes sex-specific tests to help detect conditions early or catch them at the beginning of onset.
What is this exam?
A Well Woman Exam is sometimes referred to as a gynecologist exam or just an annual exam, and regardless of gender identity, patients that have a vulva, breasts and/or a uterus should be getting this exam done once a year. This exam focuses on you, your body and your overall health, specifically reproductive health and is an important step in preventative care. As mentioned above, medical research is coming out that can pinpoint different risk factors associated with different conditions and going to the doctor only when something is wrong is an antiquated approach to caring for your health.
Through the Well Woman Exam’s testing, doctors are able to screen for specific diseases and conditions, identify various risk factors and to maintain a baseline of health for comparison, year after year. Hopefully, all who are reading this have had this exam, but for those who haven’t or for those who want to get more out their next visit, we’re going walk through just exactly what is a Well Woman Exam and what it can and should include.
First, this exam is not the same for everyone, because not every person is the same and has the same health. The overall components of this exam are going to depend on a few factors that include your age, sexual history, and medical history. It is strongly recommended that women begin this annual exam around the age of 13-15, depending on the age at which puberty starts. This can include just talk with your doctor during your regular physical exam that includes height, weight, blood pressure, etc. Once menstruation begins, talking with the doctor regarding any abnormal or concerning aspects is important, like heavy, irregular or painful periods.
For those under 18, some shots may be suggested, like the HPV vaccine. HPV (human papillomavirus) can lead to genital warts and certain types of cancer. This has been one of the most popularized vaccines for teenagers due to the prevalence of certain cancers and how effective this vaccine is in preventing them. For those who are sexually active, talking with the doctor about safe sex practices, informing on certain risk factors and getting a prescription for birth control is beneficial. For those that are sexually active, even with monogamous partners, should routinely get screened for STDs to help maintain a healthy reproductive system.
Around the age of 21, these exams begin to include regular pelvic exams annually and Pap tests every three years. A pelvic exam only takes a short while and does not hurt, barring any extenuating physical conditions. Your doctor will be examining the health of your vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus to ensure all are healthy. Prior to this examination, it is important to bring up any concerns, especially STD or other infection-related because further testing or exams may be needed. The exam usually consists of three to four different components:
- External – during this part, the doctor will examine your vulva and vaginal opening to check for any abnormalities like abnormal discharge, irritation, genital warts, cysts, etc.
- Speculum – then comes the speculum tool (a medical device used to inspect orifices by spreading and keeping them open) to examine the cervix. This should not hurt, but it may feel strange or uncomfortable. Upon visual inspection, if a Pap smear is needed, a tiny brush or spatula will be used to gather a cell sample from the cervix. This test is extremely important for the early detection of pre-cancer or cancer in your cervix. In case STD testing is being done, a cotton swab sample will also be taken and tested.
- Bimanual – this next test is to check the health of the uterus and the doctor will insert one or two, lubricated and gloved fingers in your vagina, while the other hand is placed on the lower abdomen. This is the test to examine the position, shape, and size of the uterus, any tenderness or pain (sign of infection or concerning condition) and ovarian cysts, enlarged ovaries, tumors, or fallopian tubes. This is crucial and can be an extremely beneficial exam in catching alarming conditions early on.
- Rectovaginal exam – while this one is not always necessary, it is a good idea to have it checked if you have experienced any concerns or it has been a while since the last time. During this exam, your doctor will use a gloved finger to examine your rectum. What is being looked for with this exam is the health of the muscles/tissues between the vagina and rectum, any tumors behind the uterus, on the lower vaginal wall or in your rectum.
Breast Exam & Mammograms
25 is the age at which breast exams begin to be included in the Well Woman Exam and are conducted every 1-3 years, depending on the risk factors and family history. The breast exam is very simple and should not be painful. The doctor will be screening for any possible signs of cancer or other breast problems by examining the tissues, nipples, armpits for any abnormalities.
Once the age of 40 is reached (could be younger depending on family history of breast cancer), mammograms will be conducted every 1-2 years as a preventative screening for breast cancer. The mammogram screening is a specialized X-ray that can detect abnormalities in the breast tissue that can be cancerous.
Depending on any concerns or risk factors in medical history, a urine sample will be taken as well. This is a great way to test the health of the kidneys, any potential infections, and pregnancy.
One of the most important aspects of these exams, regardless of age, is establishing a good relationship with your doctor and understanding that no question or concern is irrational. It is always better to bring attention to concerns than to ignore them and maybe have to deal with the consequences later on. There are no real steps for how to prepare for a well-woman exam other than thinking about any questions, concerns or topics you’d like to discuss during your exam. Information is power and by asking the right questions, you are taking the right steps in maintaining a healthy life for yourself.
Dr. Andrew Krinsky has been serving the South Florida area for many years and has established a reputation of always putting the health and well-being of his patient’s first while creating a safe and honest environment to ensure the most beneficial healthcare he can provide. When it comes to your health, preventative measures are crucial, and Dr. Andrew Krinsky of Tamarac is one of the best in South Florida. Browse our website for more information on the Well Woman Exam, obgyn checkup and other health services we provide.