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What to Expect at a Well-Woman Exam

A well-woman exam is an important part of a woman’s preventive health care, regardless of her age. What happens at these exams depends a lot on your stage of life, your sexual history, and any health concerns.

Capital Women’s Care in Silver Spring and Laurel, Maryland, offers well-woman exams as part of their comprehensive OB/GYN services. Here’s what to expect when you come in for your appointment.

The first visit

Women benefit from having their first wellness exam around age 13-15. This first visit is a great opportunity to meet with the doctor and review questions about a girl’s menstrual cycle, sexuality, and other reproductive health questions. 

Usually, the doctors don’t perform a pelvic exam at this early visit unless symptoms require it. This first visit will likely include a simple physical and a review of vitals, like blood pressure, height, and weight.

The pelvic exam

Once you reach age 21, you’ll likely undergo a pelvic exam at your well-woman visit. This exam allows the doctor to evaluate your reproductive organs as well as your external and internal vaginal region.

During the pelvic exam, you lie on an exam table with your feet propped up in stirrups. Your provider first examines the external area of your vagina, including the vulva and the labia. They are looking for any irritation, swelling, redness, or visual indications of sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The doctor uses an instrument, called a speculum, to hold open the walls of the vagina. This allows them to examine your cervix. You may feel some pressure, but if you can stay relaxed, the process goes quickly and stays pain-free.

The Pap smear

Women begin having Pap smears around age 21. This screening checks for abnormal cells that indicate a potential for cervical cancer. Pap smears are repeated every three years up until age 29, provided no abnormalities are found. 

Women older than 30 benefit from testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) along with a Pap smear. Some strains of HPV, a common STD, are known to cause cervical cancer.

During the Pap smear, the doctor uses a swab or brush to gently collect cells from the surface of your cervix. You may feel a little pressure, but the test is quick and not painful. The sample of cells is sent to a lab for evaluation. You should get results in a few days.

A bimanual exam

The final part of the women’s wellness exam includes a check of your ovaries and uterus. For this bimanual exam, the doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger though your vagina. They simultaneously press down on your stomach. 

This part of the exam may feel slightly uncomfortable and awkward, but it shouldn’t be painful. If you do experience pain, be sure to communicate that to your doctor.

Clinical breast exam

As part of your well-woman exam, your doctor manually examines your breasts to check for lumps, discharge, or thickened tissue. A clinical breast exam is not a replacement for a mammogram. 

Your doctor lets you know when you should begin these X-ray evaluations of your breasts. For most women, yearly mammograms are recommended after age 40. You may require them to begin earlier if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer.

Urine and blood tests

Your well-woman exam may include an analysis of your urine to check for kidney problems, infection or pregnancy. The staff may also draw blood to check your hormone levels or look for certain conditions.

Make time for questions

Your well-woman exam is also a time for you to raise any questions you may have about your menstrual cycle, birth control, STDs, menopause, or unusual symptoms. Come prepared with a list of your concerns so you don’t forget any during your visit.

If you’re due for a well-woman exam, call Capital Women’s Care today to schedule. We’re here to help you take care of your gynecological health and well-being.

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