Each stage in life comes with its own set of experiences. Physically, mentally and hormonally, your twenties aren’t the same as your fifties and your thirties aren’t the same as your teens. Sure this sounds obvious but, when it comes to your annual gynecological visits, we want to shed light on what to expect so you’re prepared at any age.
Your first gynecological appointment might be around the time you start menstruating. While you have a few years before your doctor has to administer an exam, this is a good time to form the habit of yearly visits and finding a doctor you trust. The doctor might take the opportunity to discuss any hormonal changes your body is undergoing, your period, any symptoms you may be experiencing and talk to you about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Although, it’s never too early to discuss sexual health and what that entails medically (contraceptives and STDs), your doctor may wait until one of your visits in your later teens.
Once you become sexually active but no later than the age of 21, you should expect to have your first pap smear. This exam screens the cervix for precancerous and cancerous cells. Expect to have a pap smear every 3 years unless otherwise recommended by your doctor.
Mid-Twenties to Early Forties
Now that reproduction is not only possible but something patients may be planning for or actively trying to avoid, gynecological visits may consist of a breast exam, a pap smear, a pelvic exam and an abdominal exam. You and your doctor would take time out of your appointments to come up with a contraceptive plan that works best for your body or chat about fertility-related concerns.
Although it may seem awkward at first, your provider should be a partner on your sexual health journey and is the best person to discuss any related questions. At HerMD, we set aside 60 minutes for every new patient to dive deep into your health history. We encourage you to come with questions and be prepared to discuss anything that may be considered atypical or cause for concern (ex: heavy bleeding, severe abdominal pain, pain during intercourse etc). These menstrual irregularities could be showing up as symptoms of PCOS, Endometriosis, fibroids, or something else that your provider could begin treating. Some time may additionally be dedicated to routine STD tests and check ins regarding any pain during sex or loss of desire.
Forties to Mid-Fifties
At this stage, you’ll notice the conversations with your gynecologist start to shift from preventing or promoting pregnancy to perimenopause. After a full year without a period a patient will be considered menopausal. Appointments may be spent focused on the symptoms and how to manage them with lifestyle changes, hormone therapy and products recommended by the doctor to help ease into this phase. Dr. Somi Javaid recommends the innovative and science-driven products by Womaness. Annual mammograms are introduced at this time to screen for breast cancer.
Hormone production, especially estrogen, begins to wane during these years. Bone density scans to check for osteoporosis also become a part of your annual visit once you’re considered post menopausal.
Mid-Fifties and Above
A patient’s sex life can be impacted during this time and it’s important to mention any concerns or observations to your doctor. Vaginal dryness, low libido and trouble orgasming may become more frequent. Discussing this, along with regular cancer and bone screenings, helps your doctor suggest the best possible treatment.
Now more than ever, a solid relationship with a gynecologist you feel comfortable with is vital to your health. And with the right doctor alongside you, each stage of life can be met with excitement and curiosity. Don’t think of it as the party coming to an end. Think of it as the after party. Just as fun and way more exclusive.