Annual Gynecological Exam and Pap Smear
Women should visit their gynecologist on a yearly basis to maintain good sexual and reproductive health. During the annual exam your gynecologist will exam the health of your reproductive organs, screen for cancer and infections, and address any questions and concerns.
Who should have an annual gynecological exam?
Generally, women should begin seeing their gynecologist for an annual exam and Pap smear at the age of 21 or earlier if they are sexually active. After your initial visit you should return for an exam yearly to stay on top of your reproductive health. A Pap smear may only be performed every three years for women who have normal readings.
What should you expect?
Before meeting with your doctor, a nurse will record your height, weight, and vital signs and give you a paper gown to change into in privacy. After you’ve changed your gynecologist will come in and begin by taking your medical and gynecological history. This is a good time to ask questions or discuss any concerns you may have. He or she will then perform the following exams:
- Breast Exam. A breast exam will involve your gynecologist gently feeling each of your to detect any lumps or abnormalities that may be present in the tissue. It is important to alert your doctor if you feel any discomforts during the exam.
- Pelvic Exam. You will be asked to place your heels in stirrups and part your knees to allow your gynecologist to exam your vulva. Your doctor will then insert a lubricated speculum inside your vagina and gently open it to visualize the vaginal wall and cervix. He will then insert a gloved, lubricated finger and press upwards toward your lower abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of your uterus. These exams are usually quick and do not cause significant discomfort.
- Pap Smear. If your doctor is performing a Pap smear, they will swab your cervix with a cotton swab to collect cells during the speculum portion of your pelvic exam. The sample will then be applied to a glass slide and sent to a laboratory to check for abnormal cells.
How should you prepare?
You should try to schedule your annual exam when you not menstruating as this may interfere with the exam or lab testing. Avoid irritating vaginal tissue by inserting vaginal products of having sexual intercourse 24 hours before your exam. Bring a list of questions and and try to recall details about your last menstrual cycle as your gynecologist may ask about it.