It goes without saying that it’s better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to most things. For most people that means routine well visits with their general practitioner, regular trips to the dentist, and annual eye exams for those with glasses.
Making sure that you get that annual trip to the Obstetrician-Gynecologist is equally as important as any one of these things, despite the stigma that it’s embarrassing and dreaded by most women.
What many women overlook is the holistic care OB/GYNs provide.
An article on Health.gov outlines the three components of a well-visit quite simply: the purpose is to document your health habits and history, get a physical exam, and set health goals. Each of these elements are reviewed consistently over time to ensure your overall health and well-being.
How that breaks down from a screening and testing standpoint depends on a number of things, the most pertinent of which being age.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) breaks the ages into four categories starting at the age of 13.
What to expect at any life stage
There are several screenings and tests that apply at any stage of life. It is necessary to share any abnormal bleeding, vaginal itching, foul odors, or any kind of pain and swelling. Each of these may result in tests, but that is something to embrace rather than fear.
Height, weight, blood pressure, and BMI are also commonly addressed throughout a lady’s lifespan.
What to expect in those teen years
This is where you are just getting to know each other. Depending on specifics like family history and any other risk factors your first trip to the OB/GYN is more like a first date. It’s the getting to know each other phase, and often involves more conversation than examination.
There may be a pelvic exam, as well as an abdominal exam, depending on several health-related factors, as well as testing for STDs if you are sexually active.
As a general rule, pap tests that check for early signs of cervical cancer begin at the age of 21. You may also begin having breast exams, particularly if there is any history of breast cancer in your family.
There are cases when patients are considered at-risk, requiring them to have additional tests done, but those are discussed thoroughly with you on an as-needed basis.
What to expect in those parenting years
Additional screenings to expect in the window of time between 19 and 39 include the examining the neck for adenopathy and any thyroid issues.
Genetic testing and counseling may incorporate screenings for spinal muscular atrophy, cystic fibrosis carrier, and risk factors for hemoglobinopathy (blood disorders).
Testing for conditions like diabetes, bone density, colorectal cancer, STDs, tuberculosis, and others may be integrated for high-risk women in this age group. Mammograms may also begin toward the end of this time as well.
What to expect during transitional years
Then comes a time of transition. The years between the ages of 40 and 64 bring changes to the female anatomy, prompting the need to alter the appointments slightly.
Routine colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 50, diabetes testing begins at 45, a lipid profile (cholesterol) assessment is done about every five years and mammograms continue as well.
What to expect in the later years
Congratulations on turning 65! This is all old news to you at this point, but there are a few additional considerations that begin in this life stage.
Colorectal cancer screenings, bone density screenings, and cervical cytology (pap smear) screenings continue and may pick up in recommended frequency.
Your health and wellness is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking all of this into account, it is crucial to remember this is how you stay proactive with your wellness journey rather than reactive to something negative in the future.
And there is no need to feel nervous about any of it because we are here to help!