A gynecologist is a physician specializing in the health of the female reproductive systems (ovaries, uterus, and vagina) and the breasts. Sometimes you will see these doctors referred to as obstetrician-gynecologists, as they often have additional specialized training in providing care for women during pregnancy and immediately after (a specialty called obstetrics). And, for brevity, these doctors are frequently referred to OB-GYNs.
When Should You Visit a Gynecologist?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), one of the organizations that certify gynecologists, recommends that women should have their first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15, and should return annually for a checkup.
If you are a young woman having your first gynecologist appointment, it can cause some anxiety. It is important to know that your doctor and care team are happy to talk with you about your concerns. They will do everything they can to make your visit as stress-free as possible.
How to Get the Most From Your Annual Gynecologist Appointment
As you look ahead to your first or next gynecology appointment, here are some important things to keep in mind in order to help your doctor provide the best care:
- Don’t avoid seeing your doctor. A gynecological exam can feel awkward if you are new to the process, and some of the procedures can be mildly uncomfortable, but they are not painful and the benefits to your health far outweigh any negatives.
- You typically do not have to have a pelvic exam at your first gynecological exam unless you have issues, such as pain or abnormal bleeding.
- There is no need for any special grooming or preparation for your appointment.
- Be open and honest about your health and your lifestyle. The information you provide will help put the results of the exam in the proper light and make it easier for your doctor to help you.
- If you are having your period when your appointment arrives, it may be better to reschedule. However, the doctor can still see you and you should definitely keep the appointment if you have health concerns.
- It is best to avoid sexual activity or using a vaginal douche or tampons for two days before an appointment.
- If you prefer, you can have a friend or relative in the exam room with you at your appointment.
When to See a Gynecologist
In addition to annual checkups, women should also see their gynecologist if reproductive, breast health or other related problems or questions arise. This covers a broad spectrum of issues including:
- Pregnancy, fertility, menstruation and menopause issues
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Family planning questions
- Cancers of the reproductive organs or breasts
- Benign conditions of the reproductive organs or breasts such as cysts, fibroids and vaginal ulcers
- Pelvic inflammatory diseases, including abscesses
- Sexual dysfunction
What’s more, many gynecologists provide both gynecological and general care including for issues such as headaches and acne. And, even if your gynecologist is ultimately not the type of provider who will treat your condition, they can guide you on who you should contact. Ultimately, your gynecologist can be a tremendous partner and one of your best resources for maintaining your overall health.