What to Expect at your Annual Women's Health Exam
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true in women’s health. It’s why we encourage every woman over age 18 to get an annual wellness exam each year.
These exams are an important part of maintaining proper reproductive and sexual health and they often help us identify and treat a problem before it becomes a larger issue. Your body changes as you get older and at each stage you’ll have different health needs. Here’s what you can expect at your annual wellness exam each year, depending on your age.
Though we recommend annual exams begin at 18, some people may begin at age 13 around the time they begin their menstrual cycle.
The standard screening recommendations for women ages 13 to 18 include a physical evaluation to measure weight, height and Body Mass Index (BMI). We’ll also take your blood pressure and do a skin and mole examination to screen for skin cancer. Two of the most important screenings we do for this age group are STD tests and tanner staging, in which we evaluate your physical development based on certain characteristics. If you are sexually active, we’ll also test you for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV and do a pelvic exam. Many women are nervous about undergoing a pelvic exam, which is only natural. However, it’s a routine procedure that is pretty painless, only takes a short time and gives us a lot of valuable information about your gynecological health.
Women in this age group also undergo a physical exam, as well as a breast, abdomen and periodic pelvic exams. We also check your neck for any enlarged lymph nodes or swelling. If you are over 21, we will screen you for cervical cancer. Until age 25, we also test for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year if you are sexually active or high risk (we do HIV testing for anyone who is sexually active). After 30, we screen for HPV, the most common STD in the U.S. HPV has recently been , so every woman should be aware of its risks.
If you are over 35, we also do a thyroid test to assess your levels of this hormone. Women are more likely than men to have a thyroid disorder, particularly after pregnancy and menopause, so this screening is really important. And if you are considered high risk for certain conditions, we may do a mammogram, colon cancer screening and bone mineral density test to measure how much calcium and other types of minerals are present in your bones. This helps us gauge your bone strength and whether you’re at risk for fractures and osteoporosis.
Ages 40 and Older
Women ages 40 and older should have the same physical exams as the previous age groups I mentioned. However, we begin to do oral cavity examinations at age 40 because this helps us better assess your overall health and wellness. Many diseases and infections, such as HPV, show symptoms in the mouth. If you have oral lesions, this could indicate a more serious health issue that we will want to address as soon as possible.
After 40 you should undergo a yearly mammogram, and regular colon cancer screening after age 50. Women 65 and older also should follow these guidelines.
Your health is important. Though many of us are hesitant about going to the doctor, regular visits are absolutely necessary from a prevention and treatment standpoint. Now that you know what to expect, don’t hesitate to make an appointment.