Women of all ages need regular OB-GYN care to stay healthy. Whether you’re in your teens, your early 30s, approaching menopause or beyond it, visiting an OB-GYN is essential to good health.
“We see people from adolescence through perimenopause, post-menopause and beyond, not just through the reproductive years,” said Amy Baker, DO, CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Obstetrics & Gynecology in Lexington.
“Gynecologic care is important at every stage of a woman’s life,” said Hannah Hall, MD, FACOG, CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Obstetrics & Gynecology in Bardstown. “Sometimes I hear people say, ‘I’m past that point in my life,’ but you never get past that point.”
Care in Your Teens
Most young women should have their first appointment with a gynecologist before the end of their teen years, although the exact age depends on the person.
“There are a number of problems that could develop long before becoming sexually active,” Dr. Hall said. “It’s good to establish a relationship with your doctor early, so if a problem does come up, you know who to go to.”
Some teens experience problems with irregular menstrual cycles, cramps or yeast infections. A gynecologist can help diagnose and treat those and other issues and answer questions about what is and isn’t normal as they journey into puberty.
Your 20s and 30s
Whether you’re ready to have a baby or choose to delay pregnancy, your gynecologist can help you find your best family planning options.
“Most visits during these ages include questions about sexual health,” said Anthony Smith, MD, CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Obstetrics & Gynecology in Lexington. “But this is also a time to address painful menstruation, pain during intercourse and emotional changes associated with the menstrual cycle.”
By age 21, women should also begin regular Pap smears, or Pap tests, to screen for cervical cancer. Pap smears are recommended every three to five years if results are normal, but an annual pelvic exam and breast check is still advised.
“A physician may notice breast abnormalities long before it’s time to start getting mammograms,” Dr. Hall said.
If you’re ready to start a family, your OB-GYN can help you navigate fertility issues. Dr. Baker recommends women take a prenatal vitamin before and during pregnancy. Other key factors to a healthy pregnancy is diet and weight management before and during pregnancy, and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, and getting the proper vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are absolutely recommending that our patients who are considering pregnancy or are currently pregnant get their COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “It is safe and it is effective and it is what is keeping our moms healthy during the pandemic.”
After giving birth, your physician can ensure your recovery is proceeding normally.
“One of the most important things we can do is identify patients with postpartum depression and provide emotional support, whether that’s getting them into counseling or prescribing medication if needed,” Dr. Smith said.
Your 40s and Early 50s
Middle age is a time of transition for most women. Hormonal changes can affect your mood. Physical changes can affect your health. And life changes can affect your emotions.
In addition to starting annual mammograms and discussing signs of perimenopause, your gynecologist can discuss other concerns at your annual visit. Uterine fibroids often begin or increase during middle age, causing heavy periods and pain. Other women may experience urinary incontinence, especially after a vaginal childbirth. But incontinence, bleeding or pelvic pain can also be symptoms of other problems a gynecological screening could detect.
“For instance, we see a lot of women with pelvic pain, and about a third of them actually have gastrointestinal problems,” Dr. Hall said. “We then get them to the right specialist for help.”
Menopause and Beyond
Even after your childbearing years end, your gynecologist can help you adjust to this new phase of life.
“We can provide services to help deal with decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, hot flashes and emotional issues like depression,” Dr. Smith said. “Also, it’s important to begin screening for osteoporosis and continue screenings for breast and cervical cancer.”
Most women who develop ovarian cancer get it after menopause, and a pelvic exam can detect masses that need further examination.
“I don’t think there’s a point where it’s ever OK to just dismiss gynecologic care,” Dr. Smith said.
Many women also see weight gain during menopause. “We talk about lifestyle changes, how the metabolism changes after menopause and give different lifestyle modifications that people can make during that transition,” Dr. Baker said. One such change she recommends is including weight-bearing exercises, not just aerobics, in your routine.
Another benefit of consistent gynecological care is having a doctor you can trust, someone who has gotten to know you and may detect issues beyond your reproductive health.
“I think that women often feel more comfortable talking to us about things they don’t talk about with their regular doctors — not just about sex, but also intimate partner violence, emotional problems and life changes,” Dr. Hall said. “I think gynecologists are really good at identifying different problems.”
Whether you’re just getting started with your gynecological care, overdue for a Pap smear, or have questions about menopause, CHI Saint Joseph Health is here for all your women’s health needs. Schedule an appointment today.