Let’s start today’s topic off with a firm understanding of what role different doctors play in a woman’s life. A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. Obstetricians care for women during their pregnancy and just after the baby is born; they also deliver babies. An OBGYN, on the other hand, is trained to do all of these things.
Now, because they deal with such personal and sensitive topics, the thought of visiting an OBGYN may make you feel nervous, embarrassed, and reluctant to discuss your most intimate issues with someone who is essentially a stranger. We get it, it may feel a little uncomfortable. So that’s why we’re here to take the dread out of your annual appointments with some tips on feeling more comfortable with your OBGYN and an idea of what you can expect at your checkups.
College should not be your first rodeo with a gynecologist. We highly recommend that between the ages of 13 and 15 you touch base with a gynecologist, find out what we do, and tell us a little about your medical history if you feel so inclined. It doesn’t have to be a super long or in-depth visit, but we find that in establishing a relationship with your gyno from a young age, you’re setting yourself up for a much better and more comfortable relationship later. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable disclosing to your gyno, find another provider. You have a choice in the matter because it’s your care.
Avoid having sex or douching within 24 hours of your pending appointment as this can irritate your vagina and impact the results of your Pap test.
Before you even enter the office, you should be clear on the purpose of the visit. Not all visits require an exam. There are numerous other situations in which an exam is not necessary; for example, the first time you meet your gynecologist which mimics more of a meet and greet than a typical doctor’s office visit. Or maybe you just want to discuss your contraceptive options, family planning, your irregular periods, etc. But one thing is for sure: there shouldn’t be any surprises on either your or your provider’s end going into your appointment.
When you get to your appointment, it is your gyno’s job to make sure everyone is on the same page and review how exactly how this exam will go. If an exam is taking place, have them go over the specifics that entails: will there be a breast or pelvic exam? How do these things work? It’s important to remember that nothing should be happening to you during your appointment without your consent or feeling “comfortable” about it.
Your medical history should and will be discussed thoroughly including (but not limited to) your surgical history, current medications, family history, inquiries into your smoking, drinking, and drug habits, and reviewing medical issues you may have. Even though we’re a gynecologist, we aren’t here just to talk about your sexual history; getting to know you a little more personally in terms of your medical history helps us provide the best care to you that we possibly can.
Generally, your appointment will start with a health check. The nurse will take your weight and blood pressure; you may also have to provide blood and urine samples. Then you’ll move into the physical exam in which you’ll be asked to undress and change into a gown that opens in the front and a sheet to cover your lap.
Your OBGYN will ask you questions typically about your personal and family health history, periods and any problems they may cause, if you’re sexually active and how often, birth control options, vaccine history, and any sexually transmitted diseases you’ve had or think you might have. Questions might get personal but it’s important that you provide your doctor with completely honest answers for her/him to provide the best care possible. You should also use this time to ask questions that you might have about any of the above topics or more. You may feel embarrassed asking them but trust us when we say, we’ve heard it all before.
As a part of your physical exam, the doctor will examine the outside of your vagina for abnormalities and then examine your reproductive organs from the inside. During this exam, your knees will be bent, your feet up in stirrups and the gynecologist will use a speculum to hold the vagina open while she exams it and your cervix. This shouldn’t feel painful, more like pressure. Your gyno will then take a sample of cells from your cervix using a small brush for a Pap test; the cells will then be sent to a lab and checked for abnormalities that could signify cervical cancer or HPV.
If you are sexually active, your doctor will likely test you for sexually transmitted diseases with a cotton swab during your pelvic exam and/or checking your blood test. Your OBGYN might also do a breast exam to check for any lumps or abnormalities.
After your exam, a nurse will follow up with any test results over the phone or by email.
Your Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care physician and office staff will do everything within our power to make sure you understand the different elements of your exam and feel as comfortable as possible.