MY FIRST GYNECOLOGIST EXPERIENCE | STORY TIME
When to See Your Gynecologist
Learn what a gynecologist does and when you should see one — both for regular checkups and when particular symptoms warrant a special visit.
By Connie Brichford
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. Most adult women should see a gynecologist regularly, whether they are sexually active or not. "When and how often you see your gynecologist depends upon your age and life circumstances," says Edwin Huang, MD, a gynecologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Regular Gynecologist Visits
How often should you see a gynecologist? Here are some general guidelines.
- First visit— Dr. Huang says that "women should start seeing a gynecologist when they become sexually active or within two to three years of becoming sexually active." And even if you’re not sexually active, he recommends that a woman have her first gynecological exam by age 21.
- Return visits— For most women, seeing a gynecologist once a year is enough. "If you’re not considering having a baby, you can go yearly, or every three years if you have no problems," Dr. Huang says. Problems might include irregular pap smears, changes in your period, and pain or irritation in the vaginal area.
- Last visit— Although gynecologists specialize in reproductive health, it is still a good idea to continue to monitor the health of your reproductive organs even after menopause. "Around age 70, a woman with a history of normal pap smears, and no new sexual partners, can stop routine visits," Huang says.
Other Times to See a Gynecologist
Other situations might prompt you to visit your gynecologist more often than once a year. These include pain or discomfort in the vaginal area and changes in your menstrual cycle.
- Changes in your period— If you stop getting your period, you should check with you gynecologist immediately. "That kind of change in your period often indicates that you could be pregnant," Huang says. Your gynecologist can help you prepare for a healthy pregnancy.
- Menopause— During menopause, some women experience lighter periods, while others experience a heavier flow. Frequency of cycles can also change during menopause. Most women start menopause in their early 50s, but some start earlier and others later. If you are approaching the onset of menopause and notice a change in your menstrual cycle, check with your gynecologist to rule out the possibility of pregnancy.
- Irregular bleeding— If you notice any bleeding that is not associated with your period, such as bleeding during or after intercourse, you should check with a gynecologist as soon as possible, Huang says. If you are pregnant and experience vaginal bleeding, you should also make a point to see your doctor right away. Bleeding during intercourse can indicate injury to the cervix. Vaginal bleeding can also be a sign of other conditions, such as uterine polyps and fibroids, or even a sign of cervical or uterine cancer.
- Pain or discomfort— If you’re experiencing vaginal itching and burning and you can’t identify the source, you should also see your doctor. Vaginal discomfort is not only unpleasant, but it could be a sign of urinary tract infections, bacterial infections, yeast infections, and some sexually transmitted diseases. These conditions can all be treated or managed once diagnosed by a gynecologist.
Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Women who have had yeast infections before don’t necessarily need to consult a gynecologist before self-treating with one of the many products available on the shelves at the drugstore (such as Monistat or Mycelex). But, if you’ve never had a prior yeast infection, it would be a good idea to check in with a gynecologist.
Video: My Awkward Gynecologist Experience | MONDAYS | Comedy Web Series
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