The annual well-woman visit can go a long way in helping women stay healthy. The importance of this visit is to detect and treat any new or ongoing health problems in addition to helping prevent future ones from developing.
I encourage all my patients to have the annual visit throughout their lifespan. The preventative well-woman check should happen every year from adolescence through menopause and beyond to build the foundation of health and wellness for women in the fight against a wide-range of health concerns for women of all ages. Why do we do this check annually?
1. The visit is an annual routine assessment that includes age-appropriate cancer screenings such as pap smears, mammography and colonoscopy, as well as immunizations, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, influenza, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, and shingles for example.
2. Patient’s overall health status — we check in on nutrition, exercise and fitness.
3. Routine detection and prevention of disease like diabetes, elevated cholesterol as well as age-specific counseling on topics like contraception, preconception health care and menopause.
4. Psychosocial issues detection and prevention such as abuse, violence and addiction.
The first reproductive health visit should happen between ages 13 and 15. Annual breast and pelvic exams should begin at age 19, and routine annual pelvic exams and pap tests begin at age 21. Frequency of the pap could vary for some women who are at higher risk for certain diseases of the reproductive system.
So what exactly happens during a well-woman visit? No matter a woman’s age, annual well-woman visits include a full checkup, separate from any other visit for sickness or injury. Your provider will:
• Document your health habits and history
• Conduct a physical exam
• Set health goals
• Provide services, like shots, that improve your health by preventing diseases and other health problems
• Use screenings to check for diseases early when they may be easier to treat
• Offer education and counseling services to help you make health decisions
• Assess your current health status with regard to:
Tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.
• Record vital signs:
Height, weight, body mass index (BMI)
For women who are experiencing menopause and premenopausal symptoms, the annual exam is an important opportunity to talk about managing symptoms and hormone treatment options in addition to supplements and prevention of osteoporosis. It’s also a time to discuss abnormal menstrual cycles, abnormal pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction.
So whether you are 14 or 64, be sure to schedule your age-appropriate well-woman visit with your health care provider each and every year.
Dr. Brooke Halliwell is an ob-gyn with Women’s Health of Valley View Hospital. She can be reached at 970-945-2238.