What to Expect at a Well-Woman Exam

Doctor and Woman — Monticello, MN — Stellis HealthMost people don’t love going to the doctor, so going when you aren’t even sick can seem like a huge headache. However, preventative medicine is incredibly important to stay healthy and catch problems before they arise. If you would like to learn more about well-woman exams, then keep reading to learn what you can expect at these appointments.

Health Screening

Regardless of gender, there are some general tests most providers offer during annual exams. For women of any age, your provider will check blood pressure, pulse and breathing. They will also check for any signs of current illness. As you get older, however, you face more risks, so more tests may be recommended.

Common screening blood tests for adults include a cholesterol panel and a glucose (blood sugar) tests. Other blood tests may be done based on your individual risk factors for certain conditions or to monitor conditions you are already known to have. You and your provider will decide what blood tests are appropriate for you. Your provider will also discuss cancer screening based on your age and personal risk factors which may include breast cancer screening (see below), cervical cancer screening (see below) and colon cancer screening.  

Breast Exam

Part of your annual well-woman exam is a clinical breast exam. During this exam, the provider will palpitate the breasts with their fingers to feel for any lumps or abnormal textures on the skin. The nipple area should also be checked, and the provider may take samples of any discharge.

You and your provider will decide together, based on your risk factors, when it is time to start doing mammograms to screen for breast cancer.  A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Each breast is pressed flat by a special x-ray machine that takes a picture of the breast tissue. This can detect abnormal areas early, long before the area is big enough to be felt.

Pelvic Exam

One of the reasons people shy away from well-woman health exams is the pelvic exam, but this is an important exam that monitors your gynecological and reproductive health. During the examination, your provider will start by checking the outside of the vagina for signs of irritation, sores or abnormalities.

Next, your provider will use a speculum to widen the vagina opening and keep it open. For some women, especially younger women or non-sexually active women, this can be uncomfortable. If you do feel any discomfort, tell your provider. While the speculum is inserted, the provider will check for any abnormalities inside the vagina.

Pap Test

A leading reason for the pelvic exam is to perform a pap test. During your pelvic exam, the provider will likely use a swab to collect cervical cells. This is the leading test to check for early signs of cervical cancer. Most providers recommend a pap test once every three years for women 21 to 65. However, if you also get tested regularly for HPV, your provider may allow you to have a pap test every five years.

On the other hand, some women may need pap tests more often. These include women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, had a past pap test with precancerous cells, are HIV infected, or have a weakened immune system. You can talk to your provider about stopping pap tests if you’ve had a hysterectomy or are over the age of 65 and have never had a positive test.

Well-woman exams may be uncomfortable, but they are one of the best ways to catch problems before they become major health issues. Yearly exams are an excellent way to keep on top of your health. For more information or to schedule your well-woman exam, contact us at Stellis Health today.