The best type of medical care is preventative medical care. Taking proactive steps to stop diseases before they start is a critical part of staying healthy and this is why a Well-woman exam is so important.
A Well-woman examination is a general health exam for women of all ages that focuses on screening you for breast and gynecological diseases. It’s an overall health exam that gives your doctor a chance to check up on your medical well-being.
What happens during a well-woman exam?
A Well-woman exam is both a physical exam and a conversation with your doctor or nurse practitioner. The physical exam is described below in more detail but the conversation with your doctor or nurse practitioner is an opportunity for you to speak to them about any health concerns you may have or any new health problems that you’ve noticed in the past few months.
Some ideas of things you might want to discuss with your doctor or nurse practitioner include:
- Blood pressure or cholesterol screening
- Pre or post-pregnancy counseling
- Menopause symptoms
- Diet and nutrition
- STI screening
What happens during the examination?
Your exam will be carried out in a safe and comfortable environment where your doctor or nurse practitioner will ask you some questions about your medical history and carry out an examination. If you’re a little bit nervous, don’t worry. Your doctor will help put you at ease and talk you through the entire process. If you would feel more comfortable, you’re also welcome to bring along your partner or close friend.
What does a Well-woman exam include?
Different clinics carry out slightly different Well-woman examinations but most of them include some (or all) of the following elements:
- Standard vital signs
If you haven’t seen your doctor for the last 6-12 months then they’ll likely get a new set of clinical readings from you which includes your heart rate, blood pressure, weight and body mass index.
- Pelvic examination and/or speculum
The pelvic exam is made up of three different parts: A bimanual exam (an exam of the internal genitalia), a speculum exam and/or a pap smear test. Depending on your age, overall health and medical history your doctor may not find it necessary to do every part of this exam. Pelvic exams will let your doctor pick up any abnormal lumps or bumps, irregular vaginal discharge or abnormal bleeding. This is especially important for women in their reproductive years who are sexually active, those thinking of starting a family and women going through menopause.Even if you’ve recently had a pap smear or speculum and are not due for another one anytime soon it’s still important to schedule a Well-woman exam.
- Clinical breast examination
Your OBGYN will not necessarily carry out a breast exam but if they do the exam involves your doctor palpating the breast tissue to feel for any lumps, skin changes or discharge -all of which may signal cancer. The breast exam is brief and painless and usually takes less than 5 minutes.
How long will the whole exam take?
The physical portion of the exam takes around 10-15 minutes. There is also time before and after the exam to ask and answer any questions you and your health care provider might have.
How do I prepare for the exam?
No special preparation is needed for a well-woman exam. Just bring a list of any questions you want to ask your doctor or a list of things you would like to discuss. Some clinics may ask you to bring along a urine sample to make things go a little faster but that’s it! Don’t forget, a list of your current medications is also helpful.
I’m still not sure if I need to have a Well-woman exam
A well-woman exam is one of the most important steps that women of all ages can take to protect their health. If you’re still not sure if you need the exam or not, call your clinic and spend a few minutes speaking to one of the health care practitioners. They’ll be able to answer any questions or concerns you have.
Remember, during your exam ask lots of questions. Asking questions and raising concerns helps your doctor know what’s important to you and what they should screen you for. Their goal is to help you maintain your overall health so don’t be afraid to bring up whatever medical issues are on your mind.
1) American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Committee Opinion Paper – Well woman visit. Number 534, August 2012(Reaffirmed 2016).