Your First Well-Woman Visit: What to Expect
Many women are apprehensive about their first appointment with a gynecologist, but knowing what to expect can put much of that fear to rest. Most doctors recommend scheduling your first well-woman exam when you begin experiencing menstrual problems, become sexually active, or turn 21. Here’s what you need to know.
Before the Appointment
When you check into your appointment, you’ll likely have to fill out paperwork. This will contain questions about your family medical history, any medications you’re taking, and general demographic information. It will also include information about what age you began menstruating, the date of your last period, whether or not you’re sexually active, if you’ve had any pregnancies, and other gynecological questions.
Intake for the Appointment
Once you’re taken back for the appointment, a nurse will most likely take your weight and blood pressure. He or she may ask you further questions about the paperwork you filled out if any further details are needed. Then, the nurse will hand you a gown to change into and leave while you change. You’ll need to take off everything, including your bra and underwear, but most clinics are happy to let you keep your socks on. You’ll also be given a sheet for your lower half so you can sit more comfortably.
Before Your Exam
Since this is the first time you’re seeing a new doctor, your OB/GYN will probably come in and talk with you for a few minutes. This is the time to ask any questions you may have—whether that involves issues you’ve had with your cycle or anything else you would like to discuss. If you’re nervous, don’t worry! Your doctor knows this is your first well-woman appointment, and he or she can reassure you regarding any concern.
The Well-Woman Exam
To begin the pelvic exam, the doctor will have you lay down and put your feet up in stirrups at the end of the table. At this point, you’ll have to scoot down as far as possible, bending your knees. This gives your doctor the best view of your pelvic area.
For the exam, your doctor will visually examine your external genitalia to check for any redness, irritation, discharge, and any signs of other conditions. Your doctor will conduct a bimanual exam, which involves placing the fingers of one hand inside the vagina while the other hand presses down on your abdomen from the outside. This lets the doctor check your internal organs, including the size and location of your uterus.
The doctor will also use a speculum—a metal or plastic instrument—to move the vaginal walls apart and view your cervix, the opening to the uterus. This allows him or her to check for any irregularities. This instrument may feel strange, but the doctor will use lubrication to make this process as comfortable as possible.
At this point, your doctor may perform a pap smear. A pap smear looks for irregularities in the tissue of the cervix that could lead to cancer. For this, the doctor will insert a very small brush or spatula to remove a tissue sample from the cervix while the speculum is in place. This will be a very brief pinching sensation. Your doctor’s lab analyzes this tissue to ensure you’re not at risk for developing cervical cancer. Most OB/GYNs perform pap smears every other year on young women, but talk to your doctor to see what he or she recommends for you.
Your doctor will most likely also perform a breast exam. The doctor will ask you lay on your back and raise your arms above your head. Opening the front of your gown, he or she will check for abnormalities in your breast tissue and show you how to perform self-exams between appointments.
Depending on what your doctor recommends, you may also be asked to give a urine or blood sample. These can test for STIs, pregnancy, or hormonal issues.
It’s normal to be nervous for your first well-woman visit. Asking your doctor to explain what they’re doing during the exam can make the process a lot less intimidating. Open communication with your gynecologist is key. The end of the appointment is your last chance to ask any questions or share important information, so be sure to mention if you’ve had any issues, including intense cramps, irregular periods, even acne and weight issues.
If you’re due for your first well-woman visit, make an appointment to see one of the doctors at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group. Our expert OB/GYNs can inform you about many gynecological issues and make this experience as comfortable as possible.