Yearly Checkups for Women: a Great Preventative Service

Well-women visits are, well, a great opportunity for you to stay well. With all new health insurance policies supposed to be covering preventive services – including women’s health – without any extra charges or co-pays, now is a good time to schedule your once-a- year checkup. These free checkups (that are actually paid for as part of your insurance premium) are available to you once a year – or more if your health care provider says you need them.

But what is a “well-woman visit”?

This check is a time you can meet with a health care provider and review your medical history and evaluate your current health through different screenings. Mammograms and a physical breast exam, as well as a pelvic exam are part of typical well-woman visit. These exams are important whether or not you think you have any symptoms. They can lead to early detection for a range of issues like STDs; urinary tract infections (UTIs); fibroids and cysts; ovarian, vaginal, skin, breast, and cervical cancers; and more.

Here’s a little about what to expect:

A pelvic exam – Usually performed at each annual visit, pelvic exams include both an internal and external visual exam of the vagina, vulva and labia, as well as a manual exam of your uterus and ovaries. This is not painful, but can be mildly uncomfortable and you may feel some pressure. If there is any pain, inform your physician immediately.

A Pap test – Starting at age 21, it’s recommended that you get a Pap test, which is a screening test for cervical cancer. Cells are collected from the opening of the cervix and examined later under a microscope. This is done during your pelvic exam. A Pap test is not painful but can be a little uncomfortable.

A breast exam – Performed at every yearly visit, the provider will feel your breasts to see if there any lumps or unusual tissue. If during your self-examinations between visits you notice any pain or something unusual, inform your physician immediately.

Answer a lot of questions – Your provider will likely ask you about any new health issues you may be facing, and check in about your family history to be aware of health issues that may affect you, as well. He or she is also going to ask you about any medications you may be using, including birth control, herbs and supplements (bring a list!). They’ll want to know about this to make sure none are impacting the others. Discussing your timeline for becoming a parent and birth control options for you will also be part of the lineup of questions. There will be some questions about if you’re experiencing any sexual or physical violence to ensure your overall health and wellbeing. Other likely questions include if you’re experiencing any changes from your last visit, including any new immunizations needed. Whew. It’s a lot. Know that these questions are not about judging you or getting all up in your business, but rather an effort to keep you healthy and well.

Ask questions – During and after all this, you should always feel free to ask them questions you might have about any of these issues. If you’re a little nervous about turning the tables a bit – you can find some tips for getting that conversation started if you have questions about birth control, STDs or pregnancy.

These visits aren’t the same for everybody – but this will give you a good sense of what to expect.

Call your health plan’s appointment center to make a date for your well-woman visit. Otherwise, check out our health center finder to find one near you that can meet your needs. Be well!