Routine gynecological exams should be considered a necessary element of preventative care for women, as they can detect many serious health concerns as they develop. In this way, gynecological exams are much like any other regular health checkup. Just like a yearly physical can detect all sorts of abnormalities in patients young and old, gynecological exams can provide a first line of health defense for women of all ages. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as some of the most serious health problems women face, like certain forms of cancer, may not present with symptoms until they have progressed.
Why should women consider routine gynecological exams?
Gynecological exams concern the unique health issues that only women face. Because these issues can occur in women of nearly any age, from teenager to senior citizen, it is important to establish regular gynecological exams. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that annual gynecological exams begin at 15 years old, even though younger patients will not undergo full exams until they are a bit older.
Why is it important for women to attend regular gynecological exams, and what happens at these exams? Patients can expect the following:
1. An extensive family medical history and an open line of communication – The initial visits to the physician, especially for younger patients, will be fundamental in nature. However, the fundamentals are important. This includes going over the patient’s family medical history so that any obvious risk factors can be noted. This family history will be a critical reference if the patient does develop any health issues, as it can help focus diagnostic efforts.
Perhaps even more important, though, is establishing communication with a physician. Gynecological exams are stressful to some women, but this stress can be greatly reduced with a familiar doctor, such as their general practitioner. A physician is the best health confidant a patient can have, especially when it comes to the occasionally difficult elements of passing through adolescence and into adulthood.
Physicians will also discuss topics related to women’s health care, like protection from certain STDs, preconception care and advice, and the unique nutritional needs that women have.
2. Information and administering of vaccinations – In recent years, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have encouraged physicians to pay closer attention to vaccinations. Primary care physicians are expected to keep their patients on a rigorous vaccination schedule to ensure they are protected from a variety of preventable diseases. During routine gynecological exams, women may receive vaccinations for pertussis, hepatitis and human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most frequently transmitted STD and is a major risk factor for cervical, vaginal, anal and vulvar cancers. HPV can also produce cancer in male patients as well.
Pregnant women have to be handled a bit more carefully when it comes to vaccinations, though they are still safe if administered properly. Vaccinations for pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza are especially important in pregnant women, as the immunity is delivered to the developing child, and will persist after they are born. As newborns cannot receive vaccinations, this immunity can literally be a matter of life and death.
3. Pelvic exams – Pelvic exams may not be a part of every gynecological exam, but they are essential for detecting or diagnosing a range of diseases and abnormalities. A pelvic exam consists of three parts – external, bimanual and rectovaginal. During the external exam, the doctor will check the vagina, vulva and cervix for any signs of irritation, abnormal growths, damage, inflammation, discharge or symptoms that may indicate an STD.
During the bimanual exam, the doctor will inspect the ovaries and uterus, including their size, texture and shape. The bimanual exam is ideal for uncovering any growths or pain associated with either organ.
The physician will inspect uterus and ovary ligaments during the rectovaginal exam, confirming that they are providing adequate support inside the pelvic area.
Physicians can accommodate their patients in a number of ways to make pelvic exams more comfortable. All a patient has to do is ask, as physicians often work with patients who have some degree of anxiety related to the examination.
4. Pap smear – The American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women begin undergoing pap smears when they turn 21 or when they become sexually active, whichever comes first. Current guidelines state that women should receive a pap smear every two years, though women who have several normal pap smears in a row may need them less frequently.
A pap smear is a simple procedure that takes little time. During a pap smear, the physician will swab the cervix and send off the sample to be analyzed. A pap smear can detect if there are any abnormal cells present, and is important for finding the kind of precancerous cells that may predict future cervical cancer.
5. Mammograms – Mammograms are another important screening procedure, and involve taking x-ray images of the breasts. Mammograms are effective at detecting cysts and tumors in the breasts early enough that they can be treated. Mammograms are initially recommended in women between 35 and 40 years old, and are administered annually to women over 40. Physicians can also demonstrate self-examination methods to their patients, helping women detect growths as soon as possible.
Routine gynecological exams are, like most routine health exams, important for detecting and preventing an enormous variety of diseases and abnormalities. Because of this, physicians that perform them are a valuable resource to their patients.