Well Woman Exam

Gynecology is health care for women. It helps you take good care of your sexual and reproductive health. Here’s what’s involved and what you can expect during your gynecological visit.

Routine gynecological care:

  • Prevents illness and discomfort
  • Allows for early detection of cancers of the breast and cervix — when they are more curable
  • Detects sexually transmitted infections and other conditions before they cause serious damage
  • Prevents sterility
  • Promotes healthy pregnancy and childbirth

Talk with your clinician about how often you should have periodic GYN visits and exams.

Many women worry about having a GYN exam — especially if it’s the first time. You will be more comfortable if you know what to expect.

Periodic GYN visits and exams may include:

  • Talking about your personal, family, sexual, and medical history
  • Laboratory tests and screening for sexually transmitted infections and other conditions (at your own or your clinician’s request)
  • Counseling
  • A breast exam
  • A pelvic exam
  • Cancer screening
  • Pap smear

Prepare for your office visit

Schedule your GYN visit and exam for a day you when you will not have your period — unless you have a bleeding problem your health care provider wants to see. Menstrual fluid can affect the results of some lab tests.

  • Don't have vaginal intercourse or insert anything in your vagina for a day or two before your visit.
  • Women shouldn't douche. But if you do, don't douche for at least 24 hours before your visit. For more accurate test results, don't use any other vaginal products, either. They can hide many vaginal conditions.
  • Make a list of the questions you want to ask your health care provider. Some women write them down so that it is easier to remember them during the appointment.
  • Ask if you can have a friend in the room with you if you think you would feel more comfortable.

Urine Test

You may be asked for a urine sample. The test can tell if you’re pregnant. It can also help screen for some sexually transmitted infections and other health problems.

Urinating before a pelvic exam to empty your bladder may also make you more comfortable during the exam. It will also be easier for the clinician to examine you — your cervix and uterus are located behind your bladder.

Breast Exam

You will change into an examination gown or be covered with a drape sheet. Some clinicians provide both. Your clinician will examine your breasts for lumps, thickening, irregularities, and discharge. Many clinicians will continue to talk to you about your health history during the breast exam.

Pelvic Exam

During a pelvic exam, a health care provider examines your pelvic area. It includes your vulva and your internal reproductive organs — your cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina.

Pap Test

A Pap test can find pre-cancerous cell changes of the cervix. Sometimes a Pap test is called a Pap smear.

Pap tests are usually part of a regular pelvic exam. During a Pap test, your health care provider inserts a metal or plastic speculum into your vagina. The speculum is opened to separate the walls of the vagina so that the cervix can be seen. The health care provider then uses a small sampler — a spatula or tiny brush — to gently collect cells from the cervix. The cells are sent to the laboratory to be tested.

Pap tests can detect:

  • The presence of abnormal cells in the cervix
  • Infections and inflammations of the cervix
  • Symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (With the exception of trichomoniasis, Pap tests cannot identify specific sexually transmitted infections, but they may detect symptoms)
  • Thinning of the vaginal lining from lack of estrogen commonly related to menopause

The cell sample will be sent to a laboratory. The results will be sent back to your clinician within a few weeks. Pap tests need to be repeated if there is too much blood present for an accurate reading or if there are not enough cells to be examined.

Interpreting pap tests

If you have abnormal results, your clinician will advise you on follow-up care:

  • If noncancerous abnormalities and infections are found, be sure to complete the prescribed treatment and repeat the tests as advised.
  • If early precancerous or suspicious growths are found, you will need careful follow-up. You may also be advised to repeat the Pap test in a few weeks or have them at more frequent intervals, have other tests, have a colposcopy and biopsy, have growths removed cryotherapy, laser surgery, or electrocautery.
  • If cancerous growths are found, discuss your options with your clinician and/or see another provider or specialist.

Remember -

  • Most abnormalities that are detected are not cancer.
  • Early treatment of precancerous growths can prevent cancer from developing.
  • Follow-up examinations are necessary if an abnormal condition is found.

Bimanual Exam

During this part of the exam, your health care provider will insert one or two gloved and lubricated fingers into your vagina while gently pressing on your lower abdomen with the other hand. This is a way to check for:

  • The size, shape, and position of the uterus — which could affect your fertility and birth control choices
  • An enlarged uterus — which could mean pregnancy or fibroids
  • Tenderness or pain — which might mean infection or other conditions
  • Swelling of the fallopian tubes — which might mean an ectopic pregnancy
  • Enlarged ovaries, cysts, or tumors

After your exam

This is a time for further consultation with your clinician. You will discuss the results of your exam, arrange for any follow-up or consultation that may be needed, and ask any further questions you may have.

This is another opportunity to discuss your concerns about sex and sexuality, birth control, pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted infections, problems holding your urine, inherited disorders, infertility, cancer signals, changes in your breasts, and menopause. Don’t let embarrassment become a health risk. Speak up.

If the lab tests indicate anything unusual, you will be contacted when the results are completed. Pregnancy test results are usually ready during your visit. Other test results may take a few days or weeks. Your clinician will tell you how long you’ll have to wait. Be sure your clinician has your current address and phone number.


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