You may only need a Pap test once every three years, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your OB/GYN during the time in-between, either. There are a lot of health benefits to visiting your doctor at least once a year.“Many people forget or are unaware that the OB/GYN is a primary care specialty,” said Dr. Alice Roberts, an OB/GYN at Abington Memorial Hospital. “At annual exams, we perform a great deal of preventive health screening that is specific to women.”
Although the Pap test, or Pap smear, is designed to detect abnormal cervical cells before they become cancerous, it’s only one aspect of staying healthy.During a woman’s annual health assessment at her OB/GYN, she can expect to undergo a number of different screening exams, depending on her age and risk for disease.One of the procedures your doctor will perform is a breast and pelvic exam, which identifies cancer or other issues in a way that no other test can.
“There is also a great deal of teaching performed during routine annual exams, including timing and technique of self breast exams, and safe sex in teenagers or any woman not in a monogamous relationship,” said Dr. Roberts.For women who are sexually active and younger than 26 years of age, annual screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea are recommended since they can be asymptomatic and cause infertility if left untreated. Dr. Roberts added that any woman who isn’t in a monogamous relationship should seriously consider STD screening.Other screening exams your doctor might perform include those for bladder disease, sexual dysfunction or complaints, as well as gastrointestinal and bone disease.
Women who use a prescription method of birth control will need to pay an annual visit to their OB/GYN as well, which includes birth control pills, the birth control shot or patch, IUDs, or the vaginal ring. “A diaphragm should be refitted at least every three years, after childbirth, or after any weight gain or loss of 10 pounds or more.”Women with a history of abnormal Pap smears or medical conditions, such as HPV, should also be seen annually. “A careful menstrual history is obtained to manage problems with heavy, painful periods, and PMS,” she added.Additionally, it’s important for every woman to take initiative when it comes to her health. “Symptoms to make an appointment for or to bring to the attention of your gynecologist at your annual exam include postcoital bleeding, painful intercourse, frequent or recurrent vaginitis, any breast complaint (including pain, mass, nipple discharge), frequent bladder infections or symptoms of bladder infection with negative urine culture, and menopausal complaints,” said Dr. Roberts.