There is much more involved in an annual visit to your OB/GYN than a pap test. Not only does your visit help to build a rapport with the individual who is privy to some of the most intimate details of your life, exams are also used as a well-woman checkup to assess other aspects of your health.
5 Reasons Why Annual OB/GYN Exams are Necessary
1. Your general health. Ideally, women should visit their OB/GYN between the ages of 13 and 15, or when they become sexually active, whichever happens first. These first visits facilitate a comfortable relationship between young women, their bodies, and their doctor. Unless a woman exhibits symptoms of a problem, abdominal and pelvic exams will begin around age 19, and routine pap smears will be done when a woman is 21. An OB/GYN will use the annual exam as a means of keeping in touch with her patients and providing well-rounded information regarding the woman’s health. The doctor will:
- Check your weight and blood pressure.
- Ask questions regarding nutrition, exercise, sexual activity, and address any concerns a woman may have.
- Keep women up to date regarding immunizations, birth control options, or any other medical news pertaining to female health.
- Perform a routine breast exam, and instruct the patient how to do so, to screen for suspicious lumps or irregular breast tissue.
These visits build a rapport between the doctor and patient, making it easier to discuss intimate, but necessary, sexual and reproductive issues that may arise.
2. Pap tests. Once a woman reaches the age of 21, she will have her first pap smear. Unless there are irregular results, or a woman is demonstrating symptoms, she will be asked to return for a pap test every two years. At age 30, HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) testing is added which may decrease pap screening to once every three to five years. During a pap test the doctor will take a small sample of cells from the opening of the cervix. These cells will be analyzed for abnormalities indicating potential cancer risk. The earlier potential problems are detected, the easier it is to treat the condition.
3. Birth control. During your annual visits, you will have the opportunity to discuss a wide range of birth control options. Every woman is different, and birth control is not a one-size-fits-all process. As your body ages and changes, you may find that forms of birth control that worked in the past are beginning to have undesirable side effects. By discussing these concerns with your OB/GYN, you can figure out the birth control method that is right for you.
4. STD testing. If you have an STD, it is imperative that you find out as soon as possible so you can treat the condition and prevent spreading it to others. It is recommended that sexually active women are tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea until age 25. HIV tests are recommended annually for sexually active women between the ages of 19 and 65.
5. Menopause. As women approach menopause, their bodies are changing on a daily basis. Annual OB/GYN exams are an opportunity to discuss the changes that are occurring, educate women about hormonal therapies and/or supplements that can be used to treat menopause symptoms, and to ensure the pelvic organs and tissues are in good shape. Conditions like pelvic organ prolapse can be reversed naturally, especially when caught early by a routine pelvic exam.
Annual visits promote your general well-being, as well as the well-being of your reproductive health. Take the time to prioritize your health by making an appointment with your OB/GYN.