A well-woman exam is something you should get every year, but far too many women skip this all-important part of female preventive care. There’s a reason behind every step of your well-woman’s exam, and important benefits attached to getting yours annually.
At Physicians for Women in Madison, Wisconsin, our team of compassionate board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists and certified nurse midwives provides basic gynecologic care such as well-women's exams in addition to obstetric care and midwifery.
What to expect from your well-woman exam
Every step of your well-woman exam has a distinct purpose and a key benefit for your health. Let’s look at each step as we virtually walk through the process:
1. Complete medical history
We complete a full medical history so we can know more about any illnesses you suffered as a child, any surgeries you may have had, and any medications you’re on. We ask questions about your menstrual cycle as part of this process.
Benefit: This information helps us build a baseline picture of your reproductive and overall health, so we can easily see if something changes later. Knowing about any familial issues can help us stay alert for similar problems.
2. General physical
Your physician begins your chart with the basics: your age, height, weight, and any visible signs of injury or illness. We listen to your heart and lungs, and check your eyes and ears, just like any doctor doing an annual physical.
Benefit: A well-woman exam is about your whole body health, not just your reproductive parts. By getting a comprehensive picture of your health, we can understand how your unique physiology works.
3. Lab work
We ask you to give us a urine sample so we can screen for infection or pregnancy, and we also draw blood to be sent for a routine panel, including checking your iron levels to ensure you don’t have anemia.
Benefit: Sometimes, you can have a deficiency you don’t even know about until you have blood work done. Many cases of easily treated conditions are found through routine blood work, such as an underperforming thyroid.
4 Breast exam
Whatever age you are, we perform a manual breast exam to check for any unusual areas in your breast tissue. An area of breast tissue that seems unnatural will mean we ask for a mammogram on your behalf.
Benefit: If you do have a swollen spot or a lump, it gets found sooner rather than later, and you can get immediate diagnostics and treatment, if needed.
5. Pelvic exam
It may be unpleasant to think about, and a little embarrassing, but the pelvic exam is a critical step in the well-woman visit. The exam usually only requires two fingers inserted into the vagina and a hand placed on your lower abdomen to feel for any abnormalities in your ovaries or uterus.
Benefit: A pelvic exam is a fast, easy way to check for common issues without expensive scans. If your doctor feels anything unusual, we’ll schedule you for an ultrasound as quickly as possible to get more information.
6. Pap smear
The Pap smear is probably the part of the well-woman exam most people look forward to the least, but it’s one of the most important steps. The Pap smear’s purpose is to screen for human papillomavirus (HPV), which most people have, but which in some people can lead to cervical cancer.
Benefit: If we find precancerous cells on your cervix, we can either repeat the test regularly until your Pap smear comes back normal, or send you for a biopsy to ensure any unusual cells aren’t malignant.
7. STI screening
This isn’t mandatory, but you can request STI testing as part of your well-woman exam. You might want to ask for this screening if you’re sexually active, or if you have any symptoms you think might be caused by a sexually transmitted infection.
Benefit: Knowing the status of your sexual health can be an important part of your well-woman exam. If you’re worried about a recent unsafe or non-consensual sexual encounter, we can help.
8. Birth control
Finally, you may want to talk about your birth control options with a professional. We can help you choose the best form of birth control for your needs.
Benefit: Being able to plan when and how you want to become pregnant can have many positive effects on your life, and give you more autonomy over your body.
Ready for your well-woman exam? Call our office at 608-218-4835 today, or schedule a consultation using our online booking system.