How Often Should You Really Be Seeing Your Gynecologist?

When it comes to the human body, there's no issue or question too small in the grand scheme of things. The human body needs every cell and organ to perform its function smoothly in order to survive and reproduce (if you want). However, if there's any system that should stand out as the most important system in the entire human body, it's probably the reproductive system. Due to its vital role in forming life and populating the earth, it's no exaggeration that the reproductive system is the sine qua non of continuing the human race as a whole. That's why the world invented gynecology: a medical branch that deals specifically with the functions of the internal reproductive system.

However, when it comes to gynecologic care, many who are assigned female at birth don't see their gynecologist as often as they should, unless they're dealing with pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease. It's probably because the reproductive system is not the most visible part of the body and unless it gets in the way of enjoying life, we tend not to bother taking a long and hard look at it. Truth be told, reproductive organs are more complicated and high-maintenance than you think, and it's crucial that an expert give them a professional screening on a regular basis. Here's why you should see a gynecologist regularly. 

What do you need a gynecologist for

Gynecologists are adept at diagnosing and treating conditions within the reproductive territory. In addition to pelvic examinations, Pap tests, and cancer screenings, gynecologists can offer diagnosis and treatment, and answer your concerns about infertility, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic pain, and vaginal infections. Gynecologists can assist postmenopausal people with issues like urine incontinence, uncomfortable sex, or dry vagina. If you're sexually active and are not ready to get pregnant, your gynecologist can recommend effective birth control methods that suit your needs and health conditions. If you experience disruptions in your periods or your bleeding gets unusually heavier, do not hesitate to visit a gynecologist, as irregularities in menstrual cycles can indicate a broader health issue.

You should not wait until you need gynecological help to visit a gynecologist. Numerous illnesses and infections, even those that may be fatal to certain people, might be asymptomatic. Cervical cancer, endometriosis, HIV/AIDS, herpes, hepatitis, and chlamydia are just a few of these. For this reason, it's crucial to get frequent gynecological screenings so that any potential health issues can be found, identified, and treated.

How often you should visit a gynecologist

For a start, if assigned female at birth, you should start touching base with a gynecologist between ages 13 and 15, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Women aged 21 and older should see their gynecologists at least once a year for a thorough gynecological exam, which typically includes a pelvic exam to look for any abnormalities in your vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, rectum, and ovaries, as well as a breast exam to look for lumps, skin changes, or nipple discharge. As part of your yearly gynecological exam, your doctor might also advise you to get your routine mammogram.

AFAB folks should get a Pap test every three years, or an HPV test, which screens for the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, every five years. Those who are 65 years of age or older might no longer require yearly cervical screenings. If you've been diagnosed with HPV, you might need to visit your gynecologist more often for routine tests and follow-up treatments. Women infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer and should get two Pap smears within the first year of their HIV diagnosis.

What does a gynecological check look like?

Within 24 hours prior to visiting a gynecologist, avoid having sexual intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams. These things can irritate your vagina, which might affect the results of your Pap test. Not all visits necessitate an examination. Maybe you just want to talk about your contraceptive options, family planning, or irregular periods. If you must have an exam, it's your gynecologist's responsibility to ensure that you understand what you are signing up for in advance and that you two are on the same page.

A basic pelvic exam to check the health of your vagina and your pelvis may feel slightly awkward or uncomfortable due to a sensation of crowding in the vaginal area, but aside from that it doesn't cause any major discomfort. The same can be said for a Pap test. During a Pap smear, your gynecologist will insert a speculum, which is made of plastic or metal, into your vagina. The speculum separates the walls of your vagina to allow them to see your cervix. When the speculum is inserted, you may feel some pressure or minor discomfort due to the pressure in the pelvic floor muscles. At any time that you feel uncomfortable during your exam, let your healthcare provider know. Other procedures, such as a biopsy, IUD removal, or insertion, may be painful. Your gynecologist might recommend you take a pain reliever before the procedure in case of any discomfort.

The difference between a gynecologist and an obstetrician

Although they are considered one specialty, there is a distinction between obstetricians and gynecologists. Gynecology is concerned with all aspects of women's reproductive health. Obstetrics, on the other hand, focuses on pre-conception, pregnancy, labor, and post-partum care. A gynecologist does not treat pregnant people or deliver infants, but instead specializes in the female reproductive system, such as cancer screenings, STD/STI testing, and providing expert advice on birth control issues.

An obstetrician provides care during pregnancy and delivers babies, which is why they often put in lengthy and irregular hours of work. Obstetricians don't usually deal with health problems that are outside of pregnancy. It's common for healthcare providers to combine obstetrics and gynecology, which is commonly referred to as Ob/Gyn. While a gynecologist or obstetrician can provide you with enough information about your general reproductive health, they may have to refer you to a fertility specialist if you have major problems with conceiving. For instance, a gynecologist or obstetrician may help you discover why you have fertility problems, but they are unable to provide further assistance. A doctor that specializes in treating fertility problems is more skilled in reproductive medicine and treatments, and better equipped to assist you in your quest for parenthood.