Lately, it seems that everyone is talking about the importance of “self-care.” Often this can be taking breaks for your mental health, eating right, or exercising – anything that promotes health and happiness for you. While these are all important, you might be neglecting a key piece of your self-care – your annual well-woman exam. Let’s talk about what it is, why you shouldn’t put it off and how it can contribute to your self-care and overall health.
What is a well-woman exam?
Contrary to what some may think, women need both a primary care provider and an OB-GYN. Well-woman exams are typically short appointments performed by an OB-GYN on an annual basis as part of your preventive care plan. While they are also regular physical exams like those that you receive from your primary care provider, they focus primarily on the female reproductive system.
A typical appointment will include an opportunity to ask questions about your menstrual cycle along with a consultation on your individual needs and concerns. From there, a pelvic exam, pap smear and breast exam will take place. There is also a review of family history for any potential risk factors and an informational discussion of your reproductive health needs based on your age and stage in life.
At what age should I get one, and how often will I need one?
When you turn 21, it’s time for your first exam. However, if you have concerns about sexually transmitted infections, pelvic pain or vaginal discharge prior to age 21, talk to your health care provider. You should have a complete well-woman exam every year.
How do I prepare for a well-woman exam?
While there is nothing specific you need to do to prepare for your appointment, you should avoid intercourse, vaginal creams, suppositories, medicines and douches for two days prior to the exam. It may also be helpful to make a list of any questions or concerns you have about your health and any relevant family medical history.
Why do I need a well-woman exam every year?
These annual visits may not be something you look forward to, but they can help you take a proactive approach to your health. Well-woman exams include critical screenings for many potential risks that could identify early signs of cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and other gynecological diseases. These screenings can lead to potentially life-saving early diagnoses and treatments. They also help you learn about your own body so you can detect changes when they happen.
Well-woman exams also provide an important opportunity for you to discuss any concerns or questions you might have for your provider.
Make well-woman exams part of your annual routine
Including well-woman exams as part of your self-care routine can provide reassurance, peace of mind and knowledge about your health. It’s also an opportunity to learn about and prepare for life changes like starting a family or going through menopause. Self-care is about taking control of your overall well-being, and that should be a priority for every woman.