What to Expect at Your First Gynecologist Visit
The first visit to any doctor can induce anxiety, and the first visit to a gynecologist is no exception! But it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking—we answer some commonly asked questions about what to expect at your first visit to the gynecologist.
When should I first see a gynecologist?
Many adolescents – and their parents! – want to know when they should first come to the gynecologist. There is no specific age at which anyone should start scheduling gynecological visits or wellness exams. But some common reasons for first-time visits to the gynecologist include:
- Irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Delayed first menstruation
- Painful periods
- Severe premenstrual symptoms including pain and mood changes
- Birth control counseling, as well as education about the use of birth control for treating menstrual cycle problems
- Menstrual migraines
- Education about sex, sexuality, sexual health and hygiene, and normal anatomy
- Screening for sexually transmitted infections
- Family history of endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- First cervical cancer screening with pap smear
Newport Women’s Health Services currently sees both adolescents and adults. We also take referrals from pediatricians when a patient has particular questions about sexual health and development, or when patients request to speak with a gynecologist about a specific concern.
Will I have to have a pelvic exam?
Understandably, if a person has not had a pelvic exam before, the idea can be a bit concerning. Adolescents and teens typically do not need to have a pelvic exam at their first visit to the gynecologist—you can request a talk-only consultation with the doctor to discuss any concerns or ask any questions without a physical exam.
Some problems are challenging to assess without a pelvic exam. Alternatives, such as ultrasound and other imaging, can sometimes be useful in these situations.
History of painful exams, anxiety and sexual trauma, along with a fear of their health concerns being ignored by their provider, are all common reasons patients avoid coming to the doctor. We strive to offer these patients the time, preparation, and support they need to get the care that they deserve. If you think you might need a little extra time in your appointment, or if anxiety or pain has been an issue in the past, we encourage you to let us know when you schedule your appointment. Sometimes a telehealth visit is helpful for in-office appointment preparation. Sometimes alternatives to an in-office exam can be arranged for your comfort.
It’s important for you to know that you are always in charge during any medical exam. Stopping an exam before finishing or opting out of an exam is entirely your choice. We can talk about risks, benefits, and alternatives to exams any time you have questions.
What is involved in a normal pelvic exam?
There are two parts to the normal pelvic exam: a speculum exam and a bimanual exam.
A speculum exam is performed to visually inspect the tissue inside the vagina and on the surface of the cervix. This assesses abnormalities in the tissue and vaginal discharge, and allows for testing for sexually transmitted infections, vaginitis, and cervical cancer screening (Pap smear).
A bimanual exam is an assessment of the size and mobility of the uterus, cervix, and pelvis. In this exam one finger is placed inside the vagina and the other hand presses down on the abdomen. Pelvic pain syndromes, ovarian masses, and uterine fibroids can be assessed with this exam.
Once sexually active, a pelvic exam is recommended about every 1-3 years, and anytime you have a specific concern. If no testing is scheduled in a given year, and you are not having any pelvic or vaginal problems, it’s ok to skip a pelvic exam!
Do I have to get a Pap smear at my first exam?
For the average person who is sexually active, the first Pap smear should be performed at age 21. For those who are 21 years old and have never been sexually active, the Pap smear can be delayed until they are sexually active or considered on an individual basis.
Can I go to the gynecologist if I’m on my period?
Heavy bleeding can interfere with your pap smear for cervical cancer screening. If your annual exam falls on a day when you're having heavy bleeding from your normal period, it may be best to reschedule. Light bleeding and spotting typically can be managed in the office so that your pap smear can still be performed.
At Newport Women’s Health Services, our group of physicians and certified nurse midwives work together to provide gentle, respectful and individualized care and guidance for women of all ages, from adolescence through menopause and beyond. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with us, please request an appointment online or call 401-848-5556.
About the Author:
Emily G. Blosser, MD, PhD
Emily G. Blosser, MD, PhD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist with Newport Women’s Health, a Lifespan Physician Group practice.
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