Being proactive with your health and seeing a doctor regularly are important to preventing serious medical conditions. Well-woman visits (also known as annual exams, pelvic exams, or gynecological exams) are an important part of your preventative care routine.
What is a Well-Woman Visit?
A well-woman visit is an exam performed by any doctor, nurse practitioner, or other provider. You often can see your regular primary care physician if you prefer, or you can schedule your well-woman visit with an ob/gyn. At a well-woman visit, the goal is prevention. Your provider will examine you physically and ask you questions about your health.
Some Preventative Strategies Include:
• Contraceptive Counseling: Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so having a conversation with your provider about your contraceptive options is important. Your doctor can discuss options such as birth control pills, IUDs, or other contraceptive means. If you would like to receive an IUD, you will need to schedule a separate appointment to have it placed, but most other birth control options can be prescribed during the well-woman visit.
• STI Counseling: Preventing STIs is important your reproductive health, so use your well-woman visit as an opportunity to discuss with your doctor what methods you are using to protect yourself from infections.
• Pelvic Exam: Your doctor will complete an internal exam of your vagina and cervix to make sure everything is functioning properly. This can help doctors recognize certain types of cancers, STIs, and other gynecological problems. For this reason, it is best to schedule your well-woman visit for a time of the month when you are not on your period or are only bleeding lightly.
• Overall Health: Your doctor will also look at your body mass index, blood pressure, and heart rate to make sure you are healthy and to advise you on how to best care for your body. Depending on your age and your overall health, your provider may also order additional testing, such as a high cholesterol screening or a colonoscopy.
• Emotional Health: Problems with depression, substance abuse, anxiety and other mental health illnesses should all be discussed with your provider. Rest assured that everything you discuss with your doctor is confidential. Your doctor will be able to connect you with resources to help restore your mental health if needed.
• Breast Exam: Your doctor will complete a clinical breast exam to assess for any abnormalities at least once every 3 years between the ages of 21-39. You should also be doing this at home on a regular basis as well to help detect any changes in your breast tissue. If you are 40 or over, your doctor will also likely refer you for an annual mammogram. Regular breast exams are key to early detection of breast cancer.
• PAP Smear: For women 21-65, PAP smear should be completed every 3 years as long as there are no issues with abnormal results during previous PAP smears. PAP smears are used to detect abnormal cells on your cervix and are an important part of preventing cervical cancer.
Preparing for a Well-Woman Visit
Prepare for your exam by writing down questions you might have for your doctor to help you remember to bring up any concerns you have during your visit.
Know Your Family Medical History
Your provider will ask you questions about your family history. Do you have immediate family with a history of certain types of cancers? Does high blood pressure run in your family? You will want to talk to your family members about what conditions and diseases are prevalent in your family tree so that you can answer your doctor’s questions about family medical history.
You can schedule your well-woman visit with your regular doctor or your ob/gyn. Some primary care physicians do not perform pelvic exams, so make sure to clarify with your doctor’s office if this will be included in well-woman visit. We recommend that you choose a provider who is able to perform all aspects of the well-woman exam. As long as you have insurance, your well-woman visit should be of no cost to you at all, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. If you do not currently have insurance, you can usually schedule a well-woman visit at a clinic or other low-cost medical center near you. So what are you waiting for? Schedule your well-woman visit today and take the first step in preventing serious health conditions and controlling your overall health.