According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), an annual well-woman exam is an excellent opportunity. It offers a chance to identify problems early, promote better health habits and provide patient education. For most women, a well-woman exam should take place annually, but at least every other year. In addition to reproductive health and related issues, a well-woman exam includes screening and preventive activities such as immunizations.
Certain aspects of a well-woman exam are the same for all women, while others vary depending on age and medical history. For example, a physical exam is always included, as is a health history. For many women, a well-woman exam includes a pelvic exam and may also include a clinical breast examination. These exams typically include domestic violence screening and may include STD testing, depending on risk factors such as multiple sex partners.
“An ounce of prevention...” Many chronic health conditions develop over time. When trends like weight gain or signs of menopause at a young age are identified early, it provides an opportunity to intervene and help the patient make changes before problems become serious. A well-woman exam is also a time to talk about intimate and even embarrassing matters like vaginal dryness or lack of sexual desire. Regular exams build a trusting relationship between doctor and patient that promotes such discussions.
No matter what her age, every woman needs well-woman care. Although reproduction and gynecological issues are a major focus of well woman care, women have many other health needs that can be addressed during a well-woman exam. For example, some birth control methods have side effects that can affect overall health. Mental health issues such as post-partum depression should be addressed. The older woman who is past menopause is at higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis; she should be screened and, if necessary, treated for both conditions.
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