An Apple a Day? See Your OB Anyway.
“You should see your OB at least once year,” I replied, waiting to roll my grocery cart up to the checkout. As an OBGYN in relatively small South Lake Tahoe, I’ve gotten used to getting asked women’s health questions at odd times and in odd places. What I’ve learned is that many women aren’t sure when to see their gynecologist or what to expect when they do. Hopefully, I can provide a few guidelines to clear up some of the uncertainty and confusion.
What’s with all the letters? What is an OBGYN? The letters are confusing! First things first: An OBGYN is an obstetrician-gynecologist. An obstetrician is a doctor who cares for women during pregnancy and delivers babies. A gynecologist is a doctor who is an expert on women’s reproductive health. These days, doctors in the field are trained as both obstetricians and gynecologists, so we’re called OBGYNS.
When should a woman see a gynecologist? Probably more often than you think! Generally, you should first see an OBGYN around age 21. From that point forward, we recommend annual exams. Annual exams allow your OBGYN to assess your reproductive health as well as your general well being.
What takes place during an annual exam? I know, I know: That image in your mind of the examination table is a little intimidating! But don’t worry; our goal is to make you as comfortable as possible during any exam. At an annual exam, you should expect a physical exam, a blood pressure check, a weight check, a clinical breast exam, a pelvic exam, as well as a cervical cancer screening. Every 3 years, a pap smear should be done as part of the exam, and annual STD screening is recommended for sexually active women. Since you’re already there, the annual exam appointment is also a great time to discuss family planning goals, contraception and safe sex practices.
What about other things, like mammograms and menopause? The annual exam is the foundation for a lot of gynecologic care, but it doesn’t end there. Here are a few more age-dependent milestones to keep in mind:
- Mid 20s: Get your baseline cholesterol checked.
- 40: Start annual mammogram screening for breast cancer and have your cholesterol checked.
- 50: Begin colonoscopies for colon cancer screening and repeat every 10 years. Around age 50 is also a good time to discuss menopause with your doctor, as well as to begin taking vitamin D and calcium supplements for bone health.
- 65: Begin bone density screening. Also at 65, you no longer need cervical cancer screening if you’ve had normal pap smears for 10 years.
What else should I do for my health? Obviously, there’s more to your physical well being than OBGYN-speci c issues. It’s no secret that diet and exercise play a large role in overall health. Eating a predominantly plant-based diet is great for you and has been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Also, aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week is recommended, and light weight-bearing exercise can really help maintain bone health.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Which is why you should – you guessed it – visit your OB. And if you see me in the grocery store, definitely say “hi.”
Dr. Amanda Weavil is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in South Lake Tahoe. Dr. Weavil is the founder of BumpBar, a pregnancy and nursing nutrition bar company. Learn more about BumpBar at www.getbumpbar.com.