Chances are your to-do list is already a mile long. You’ve got things to do, places to go and people to see. So why add one more item to your list?
Well, when that item is your annual wellness exam with your OB/GYN, it should make the top of your list (or at least close to it).
That’s because your annual wellness exam is your opportunity to check in on all the unique things that make you you – your reproductive health, goals for your family (however you define it) and staying up to date on all necessary screenings.
“Your annual wellness exam at the OB/GYN is a perfect time for your doctor to learn what’s been going on with you, ensure you’re not developing any health problems and – if you are – catching things early enough to make treatment more effective,” explains Stuart Pancer, MD, OB/GYN, at Emory Women’s Center at Decatur.
Still not convinced? Here are three reasons your annual wellness exam can’t be missed.
You’re One Person. You Deserve Care Tailored to You.
We all have our own goals for life and our own struggles. A visit with an OB/GYN can help answer any questions you might have or point you to the resources or support you want or need.
“Many of my patients are surprised that most of our visits are just a conversation,” explains Dr. Pancer. “That time, talking about their goals, wants and needs, is just as illuminating as any physical exam – and often, more so.
“It’s very important to me to get to know my patients so I can be there for them however they need it. Most importantly, it’s all down in a safe, welcoming and non-judgmental space,” he finishes.
Once your doctor knows what is most important to you, they can guide you to the care you want and deserve. And it might be care that you didn’t even realize you wanted or needed, especially if there’s nothing “wrong” or you do not have any symptoms.
Your OB/GYN can help provide help and support for different topics, including:
- Contraceptive care
- Breast health
- Safe sex
- Healthy relationships
- Managing periods
- Mental health
- Family planning
- Preparing for (and managing) perimenopause
- Living and thriving in menopause
Women’s Health is More than Reproductive Health
You may also be surprised to learn that your conversation with your OB/GYN will go beyond reproductive health. You’ll also chat about your heart health, bone health, mental health and just about all areas of your physical, mental and emotional health.
“Your annual exam is truly focused on all aspects of female health,” shares Dr. Pancer. “It used to be that you would see your OB/GYN every year for a Pap test, but the two are no longer equated. However, just because you don’t need a Pap smear doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see your OB/GYN.”
Your doctor will check in with you to address anything new or find out what’s going right. You’ll also have all your vitals checked – something everyone needs at least once a year. That includes:
- Weight and body mass index
- Blood pressure
- Lung health
- Blood work
“One of the most common issues we come across is finding high blood pressure in our patients,” shares Dr. Pancer. “There aren’t any symptoms of high blood pressure, so many don’t even realize it’s an issue.
“It’s something that we can identify early and send them to their primary care provider to get it addressed. We also do routine blood tests if we’re concerned about any thyroid conditions or anemia. These are very simple screening tools that allow us to find any potential problems and deal with them early, so it doesn’t become a huge issue,” he finishes.
Don’t Miss a Lifesaving Screening
Cervical cancer rates have dropped more than 50% from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, mainly due to regular screenings. While you may not need a Pap test or HPV test every year, it is important to stay on top of this and other important health screenings.
An annual well women’s exam allows your doctor to share any updated guidelines or make sure you’re up to date. Here are a few screenings you may discuss.
Cervical Cancer Screenings
Cervical cancer is a very slow-growing disease. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that people with a cervix have screenings at the following intervals:
- Ages 21 to 29: Pap test every three years
- Ages 25 to 29 may consider HPV test, but Pap tests are preferred
- Ages 30 to 65: You have three options for testing:
- Pap test and HPV test every five years
- Pap test every three years
- HPV test every five years
Breast cancer continues to be the number one cancer among women. Regular screening mammograms have helped catch the disease earlier when it’s easy to treat. Screening guidelines can vary slightly based on your risk factors and preference.
In general, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following:
- You have the option to start screening at age 40
- Annual mammograms should begin no later than age 45
- After age 55, you can choose to continue annual mammograms or have one every other year
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many of us to put off regular cancer screenings, including colorectal cancer. While screening options for this type of cancer include at-home kits, colonoscopy remains the gold standard for identifying and diagnosing colorectal cancer.
Your doctor can discuss your risk level and which screening option and schedule are best for you.
Other Health Screenings
During your appointment, you and your OB/GYN may also discuss other health care and screenings to consider, such as:
- Bone density scan
- Sexually transmitted infection testing
- Cholesterol screening
- Diabetes screening
- Skin cancer check
- Addiction support
- Smoking cessation
“Your annual appointment with your OB/GYN allows you to address so many different topics – including some you might not have thought of,” Dr. Pancer says. “And if you aren’t due for a cervical cancer screening, you might not even need any pelvic exam.
“It truly is a time to connect with your doctor and make sure you’re moving forward in the best health possible,” he finishes.
Request an Appointment
Emory Women’s Health
At Emory Healthcare, you can expect women’s health care centered around your goals, hopes and concerns. We’ll meet you wherever you are and get you where you want to be. We offer comprehensive services for all stages of life – from your first gynecological appointment to thriving through menopause.
Learn more about women’s health services at Emory Healthcare, and find a location near you.