Not sure what to expect at a gynecologist visit? Let's break it down step–by–step:
1. Scheduling the Appointment: You don’t need a specific reason to schedule your first appointment with a gynecologist. If you’ve got a vagina, that’s reason enough. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that women start seeing a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. However, there’s no need for a pelvic exam or pap smear until you turn 21 or become sexually active. Many gynecologists are only able to book appointments weeks or months in advance, so don’t wait for something to go wrong before you schedule a visit. Gynecologists help track your reproductive health, and are key to treating medical issues as they or even before they arrive. It’s as important to see a gynecologist every year as it is to get your regular physical from a doctor.
2. Preparing for the Appointment: There are a few things you should do to prepare for your visit to the gynecologist, and none of them involve grooming your pubic hair in any specific way. Gynecologists have seen it all, and pubic hair won’t make a difference in assessing your reproductive health. Blood can make a difference in assessing your reproductive health, so make sure to schedule your gynecologist appointment for a day when you aren’t on your period. For the two days leading up to the visit, refrain from having sex, using a tampon, or using any vaginal lubricants or cleansers. This will help you get the most accurate results from your gynecologist. You should also come prepared knowing your medical history, sexual history, and recent menstrual history. If it’s hard for you to recall all of this information on the spot, spend some time writing it down beforehand. You should also ask your family about any diseases or medical disorders that run in the family, as these can impact your risk levels of developing certain conditions. Also remember that you can bring a friend or family member with you to your appointment if you’re really nervous, so make sure to plan with them ahead of time.
3. The Appointment (Four Parts):
Talking / External Exam: The first part of your gynecologist appointment will go much like any other doctor’s appointment. Your gynecologist will take some basic medical information and talk through your health history before leaving the room and giving you a hospital gown. Then it’s time for the stirrups: you’ll scoot your butt to the edge of the examining table with your feet in the stirrups so your gynecologist can get a good look at the exterior of your vagina. They’ll be investigating for things like warts, cuts, and abnormal hair growth. Make sure you are completely honest with your gynecologist about your health history, as this will affect your treatment. Your gynecologist is required by law to protect the privacy of your information, even from your parents. Further, you can’t treat any problems you hide from your doctor, so get your money and time’s worth out of your appointment by being as honest as you can. As difficult as it can be to open up about sex and menstruation, it’s your gynecologist’s job to talk about these things—your most embarrassing questions are their everyday job!
Speculum Exam: The speculum is a duck-billed device that is lubricated and inserted about ⅔ of the way into the vagina to help gynecologists examine the cervix. For many women, the speculum is the most uncomfortable aspect of a gyno appointment. The speculum holds the vagina open, which can produce discomfort in some women, typically in the form of pressure. However, the speculum will only remain inserted for about one minute, so this discomfort should be brief, if you feel it at all. If you’re really worried about the speculum being painful, you can ask your gynecologist to use the smallest speculum available. If you’re sexually active or 21 and older, your gynecologist will likely perform a pap smear, an exam that tests for cell abnormalities in the cervix. To conduct the pap smear, your doctor will swab cells from inside of your cervix while the speculum is inserted.
Bimanual Exam: The bimanual exam is a manual test of your reproductive organs for abnormalities like cysts. To conduct the bimanual exam, your gynecologist will insert two gloved, lubricated fingers inside of your vagina and feel around while the other hand presses down on your abdomen. This is another part of the exam that can make people feel uncomfortable, however, it shouldn’t be painful. If it is, tell your gynecologist immediately. The entire bimanual exam should take one minute or less.
Possible breast exam: Keep in mind that your gynecologist visit might include a breast exam, in which your doctor will feel your breasts and upper arms for lumps.
4. After the Visit: After your appointment, you might get a call from the doctor’s office with results from any of the tests run following your exam. It typically takes 1 day to 2 weeks to get results from an STI test, and 1-3 weeks to get results from a pap smear. Many offices won’t call you if test results are normal, so confirm whether this is the case before you leave your appointment. It also might be a good idea to schedule your next appointment before you leave the office. Pap smears and pelvic exams are recommended every three years for sexually active women over the age of 21, but it’s better to see your gynecologist yearly to check in.
*Birth Control and the Gynecologist: As important as it is to see your gynecologist, you actually don’t need to be examined to receive a birth control prescription. All that’s needed is some information about your health and family history. If you want to try birth control and don’t have the time or funds to see a doctor, Simple Health has got you covered. Our online, doctor-designed birth control consultation takes into account your medical history and lifestyle preferences to choose the best contraception method for you. Got questions? Our care team is always available via phone, email or live chat.
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