The annual gynecological exam, also known as a well woman visit, is a yearly preventative and diagnostic visit that serves to maintain your general wellness and monitor or diagnose some physical and hormonal conditions. It’s a yearly opportunity to speak with your physician, address any new concerns and plan for the future.
“This is an ideal time to review the previous year and engage your doctor about anything that you think may impact your health — things that are of concern to you but may not have required an office visit since your last annual exam,” says Richard Kaye, M.D., an OB/GYN on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano. “This is a highly personal office visit that can be stressful, so it may help to make a list of things that are important to you.”
To make things a little easier, we asked Kaye for a list of the top 5 things you should always bring up with your physician at your annual well woman exam.
1. Bring them up to speed on what’s new
While your physician will most likely have notes in your chart about previous conditions, tests and treatments, use this opportunity to let them know how it’s going. Bringing them up to speed on those things can help drive the conversation, especially if you’re still having issues or concerns. For instance, if you started a new medication for menopausal symptoms, contraception or anything else, give your doctor an update.
Then fill them in on anything new that’s happened since your last visit, such as a change in menstrual pattern, including bleeding and pain, or any other concerns you may have. Think of it as catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen a long time, picking up the conversation from where you left off and then filling them in on anything new.
2. Discuss your vaccination status
Vaccination is one of the best ways to protect yourself from some harmful diseases that can be very serious and may require hospitalization. Your physician may ask about your vaccination status for a variety of vaccines, some general, and others that you may be eligible for at a certain age.
Kaye notes that many patients also use this time as an opportunity to ask about the appropriate vaccines for their daughters, especially the timing of the HPV vaccine. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is FDA-approved for females and (males), with a series of two shots if administered between the ages of 9 and 14, and three shots if administered between the ages of 15 and 45.
A few vaccines your physician might ask you about could include:
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Zoster (shingles)
- Seasonal flu (influenza)
- Tdap booster (tetanus and diphtheria)
- COVID-19 (original doses and any additional boosters)
- Hepatitis A and/or B
No matter your vaccination status, it’s important to always let your physician know what you have and have not received so they can adjust your care or manage your risks as needed.
3. Review medications
Even if they were prescribed by another doctor, ask your physician to review all of your prescribed medications as well as any over-the-counter medications or supplements you take. Be sure to mention any new medications or drug allergies since your last office visit.
“This is a great opportunity to check for any medications that are not compatible or redundant,” Kaye explains.
Depending on your medical history and current needs, you may discuss contraceptive options including birth control pills, a Progesterone implant or injection, IUDs, vaginal rings, or even permanent sterilization. Estrogen replacement for postmenopausal women can be accomplished through several different delivery systems and should be prescribed with your particular needs in mind.
“Because there are potential contraindications — not everyone is a fit for every medication — the annual exam is a good time to discuss your options,” Kaye adds.
4. Discuss family history and any related screening
If this is the first time you’re seeing this physician, giving them a good download of your family history can give them a good baseline of any screening, lifestyle changes or medications they recommend. While it may be difficult for you to determine what’s important to bring up or how far back to go in your family tree, Kaye notes your physician can guide the discussion with you.
If your physician already has your family history but there has been a change, let them know. While this may not require any immediate action, it can help inform testing or treatment down the road especially if more family members are diagnosed or you start displaying related symptoms. Some common things to bring up include family cancers, heart disease and early menopause.
Additionally, discuss any recommended screening for diseases specific to your age group, including pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy, and osteoporosis (bone thinning).
5. Discuss your menstrual cycle and reproductive health
If anything has changed regarding your period since your last visit, let your doctor know, even if it doesn’t seem significant or bothersome. This will help your doctor screen for irregular menstrual bleeding and also begin a discussion about contraception or hormone replacement therapy depending on your age.
A few things to bring up can include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles or irregular bleeding
- Painful menses or other pelvic pain
- Mood changes, either around the start of your period or otherwise
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- The need for contraception or a change in contraception
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Onset of fatigue, either around your period or otherwise
- Change in libido
- Hot flashes
If you’re ready to grow your family, also discuss that with your physician. They can go over fertility and any individual risk factors involved with either trying to conceive or carrying a healthy pregnancy to term. They may also want to check some blood levels, like your thyroid and a complete blood count (CBC). They can also recommend prenatal vitamins and any additional suggestions to help you increase your odds of getting pregnant and/or having a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby.
Annual well woman exams are an important part of staying healthy and preventing illness, even if you’re relatively healthy. Doing a little prep work beforehand can help you and your physician make the most of your visit.
Finding a physician who can partner with you for your health is essential. We can help find a physician who is appropriate and convenient for you. Call 1-877-THR-WELL (847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaProvider today.