Did you know that an estimated one in 10 women in the United States have endometriosis? That makes it one of the most common gynecologic disorders in the country. It also usually happens to women who are only in their 30s or 40s.
In addition, over 20 types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can afflict women. They’re also at risk of gynecologic cancers, including ovarian, cervical, and uterine cancers.
Fortunately, you can prevent or treat many of those health woes with the help of a gynecologist.
What does a gynecologist do exactly to help patients, though? What can you expect during your initial consultation with such a specialist?
This guide will address all those questions and more, so be sure to read on.
What Does a Gynecologist Do?
A gynecologist (GYN), sometimes called gyno, is a doctor specializing in gynecology. Gynecology, in turn, is the medical practice that deals with female reproductive health.
As such, gynecologists specialize in recognizing, diagnosing, and treating female reproductive conditions. These include issues affecting the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, and vagina.
Gynecologists also help patients maintain optimal reproductive health with annual check-ups. Moreover, they’re a treasure trove for advice on responsible and safe sexual practices. They educate and assist patients in choosing contraceptives and protecting themselves against STDs.
In addition, gynecologists perform cancer screenings and translate the results to patients. These tests can save lives, as early cancer detection is vital to the success of treatment.
Gynecologic patients, in turn, include adolescents to mature women in their post-menopausal stage. This means gynecologists have patients as young as 10 to as old as 55 or beyond.
What Is an OB/GYN Then?
As mentioned above, the professional abbreviation used by gynecologists is GYN. However, you’re more likely to see OB/GYN, in which OB means obstetrician.
Obstetricians are doctors who specialize in obstetrics. Obstetrics, in turn, is the field that deals with anything relating to pregnancy. It encompasses pre-conception, pregnancy, delivery, and post-childbirth.
So, an OB/GYN is a doctor who can be with you throughout all stages of your reproductive life. Since they’re also gynecologists, they can assist you even after your childbearing years.
What to Expect at the Gynecologist?
Regardless of your specific reasons to see a gynecologist, expect your first visit to be a meet and greet. The gyno will take your record, including your personal and family health history.
Make sure you let the specialist know about any medical issues you may have had or those that run in your family. This is crucial, as genes may have to do with some female reproductive disorders. For example, 35% to 40% of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism cases seem to be genetic.
Then, after taking your health history, the doctor will ask for your current health status. Tell the gyno about any existing health condition you may have, no matter how unrelated it may appear to be.
For instance, loss or thinning of hair, acne, or oily skin can be signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, in turn, is as common as endometriosis, afflicting 10% of childbearing women.
You should also tell the doc about your current lifestyle habits, such as drinking or smoking. This is especially important if you want to get pregnant, as both can impact your fertility. Besides, even if you do conceive, alcohol and tobacco can hurt your baby.
Next, prepare to answer questions about your sexual life, such as how active you are. The doctor also needs to find out a bit about your partner, especially their health. These questions can help your gyno determine if you’re at risk of certain diseases, such as STDs.
What About Exams?
You may not have to get tests during your gyno check-up if you only want advice on contraceptives. Another example is if you want guidance on planning a pregnancy.
However, you may need exams if you have problems like irregular periods or heavy bleeding. The same goes if you have any discomfort or pain while urinating or having sex.
With that said, let’s go over some of the typical tests that your gynecologist may perform.
During this exam, the doctor will first examine the exterior of your vagina. The doc will look for any signs of abnormalities, such as irritation or swelling of the vulva.
From there, your gyno will need to feel (palpate) your uterus and ovaries. To do this, the doc will insert two lubricated, gloved fingers into the vagina. The other hand will go on top of your lower abdomen and gently press it down.
Palpation can help your gynecologist determine your uterus’ and ovaries’ shape and size. In doing so, the specialist can either note or rule out any unusual growths.
More Comprehensive Pelvic Exam
A pelvic exam starts with a physical exam, but it also includes an internal visual exam. In this case, the gyno needs to use a speculum, a specialized instrument. It helps doctors spread open the vaginal walls for a better look at the vagina and cervix.
While the use of a speculum often doesn’t cause excessive pain, it may feel uncomfortable. So, as much as you can, try to relax to help relieve some of the unpleasant sensations. However, let your gyno know right away if there’s any pain.
Pap and HPV Tests
During the pelvic exam, your gynecologist may also perform a Pap test, also known as a Pap smear. In this case, the doctor will use a small brush or spatula to take cells from your cervix and vagina carefully. They will then smear the cells on a glass slide or place them in a vial full of liquid.
In some cases, an HPV (human papillomavirus) test follows a pap smear. The gyno will take samples of the same cells and put them in or on a different medium.
Either way, both Pap and HPV tests can help detect abnormal cells that may signal cancer. As such, it’s a wise decision to get a Pap smear once every three years and an HPV exam once every five years.
Keep Your Female Parts Healthy With the Help of a Gyno
There you have it, your ultimate guide answering the question, what does a gynecologist do? Now that you know, it’s a good idea to prepare for your first visit as soon as possible. This way, you can start doing what you can to keep your reproductive system in tip-top condition.
Besides, breast and genital cancers may account for about 42% of new cancer cases in US women this 2021. That’s enough reason to see a gyno ASAP.
Interested in more educational guides on health and well-being? Check out our most recent blog posts, then!