Well it’s that time of year again, the time of year that all women dread..time for your dental cleaning. But wait, when was the last time you had your other ‘bits’ looked at? As a new doctor to Vietnam I find that many of my patients have foregone their yearly well-woman exams. In all other aspects of their lives, they are organised, timely and educated but why not so much when it comes to their private parts? I have decided to outline some of the important reasons to come in for a well-woman exam, as well as taking the mystery out what to expect when you have one.
As with a lot of expats it is common for many women to defer some maintenance health check-ups till you get ‘home’. In principle, that is OK if you go back on a yearly basis (assuming you are otherwise healthy) but often trips home are postponed or Bali is just too tempting instead. A well-woman exam primarily focuses on PREVENTIVE care for women. Is it not better to avoid problems than actually dealing with them? These exam may include:
Yours and your family’s medical history to relate them to any possible medical issues you may be predisposed to genetically.
Screening tests to check for diseases early when they may be easier to treat (eg: Diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver and kidney issues, anemia and venereal diseases to name a few).
Education and counseling to help you make informed health decisions (eg: contraception, fertility, weight management, quitting smoking). As well as services, like vaccines, that improve your health by preventing diseases and other health problems.
It is also a good time to discuss with your doctor any ailments you may have been experiencing or even just expand your knowledge of how the human body works. (“Doctor, can you please explain to me why men have nipples?”)
The doctor or nurse will examine your body, which may include:
- Measuring your height and weight
- Calculating your body mass index (BMI) to see if you are at a healthy weight
- Checking your blood pressure
- Taking your temperature
- Doing a breast exam (feeling your breasts and under your arms for lumps or other changes)
- And a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, a health care provider visually and manually examines your vulva and your internal reproductive organs —your cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina.
One thing that I would like to clarify is that a pelvic exam is not the same thing as a PAP smear test (though a PAP smear is often done at the same time). And lets be honest, its probably the reason you dread going to the doctor in the first place. The good news is that you may not need one at every visit.
A PAP smear(invented by and named after the Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou) is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available.You should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21 regardless of whether or not you are a virgin, mother, straight, lesbian, bisexual, married, or single and should continue them until you are 65 even if you think you are too old to have a child or are not having sex anymore.
The only cancer for which the Pap test screens is cervical cancer. It does not screen for ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar cancers. If your Pap test results are consistently normal, you can wait three years (happy dance!) until your next Pap test (with your doctors approval of course). However even if your Pap tests are every three years you still should see your doctor every year for a well-woman exam.
If you are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test anymore.
Most importantly the yearly exam allows you the ability to build a rapport with your healthcare provider which is a crucial component to build trust.
In summary, a well-woman examination is a yearly re-connect with your doctor. Usually lasting no longer than 30 minutes and hopefully giving you a piece of mind that all is ok till your next visit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you leave your appointment with a clear picture of what was checked for or found. I hope this has taken some of the mystery and anxiety out of your yearly exam. Stay healthy my friends!
Dr Aron Schuftan is a U.S. Board Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist working at Family Medical Practice. He moved to Vietnam recently from California where he was an adjunct professor at Stanford Medical Center and in private practice.
He is also a founder of the popular smartphone app “Pregnancy Companion” (www.PregnancyCompanion.com ). He will not be going to Bali this summer and knows why men have nipples. (http://www.livescience.com/32467-why-do-men-have-nipples.html)