I remember when I turned 16 years old, my mom told me that it was time to make my very first visit to a gynecologist. I had been having normal periods, my cycles were usually right on track and I didn’t have any issues with cramping, so I asked, "why do I need to go see a gynecologist?" My mom explained that it was just something that young women had to do. I was nervous when I made my first appointment because I didn’t know what to expect. I went to the same doctor that my older sister went to and it ended up being a great experience but now that I have a daughter of my own, I want to be educated on the why, when and more. I had the opportunity to sit down with Lana Lange, MD
, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Obstetrics & Gynecology, to get her expert insight:
What age should women start looking for an OBGYN?
I get asked this question by moms all the time. There isn’t one answer for everyone. For some, it is in their early to mid-teen years when they start experiencing heavy or painful periods or are starting to contemplate becoming sexually active (or more commonly, have already become sexually active). If they are not experiencing any problems and do not need birth control, then I suggest they see an OBGYN between the ages of 18-20. The first pap smear is due at age 21 (whether you are sexually active or not) and it is nice to meet and get to know your doctor prior to having that exam if possible.
What are some of the things we should be looking for when picking an OBGYN?
It’s not always easy to pick a doctor. Many insurance companies limit your options and it’s nice to have a doctor close to your home. I get a lot of my patients from family or friend recommendations. I would suggest asking trusted ones who they like. Many other patients read online reviews or even interviews or videos of the doctor posted online to see if the physician feels like a good fit for them. Ultimately, if you aren’t comfortable, switch! This is a pretty intimate (and hopefully long-term) relationship you will build.
What should you expect on your first visit to OBGYN?Typically, you can expect the doctor to run through your personal and family history, ask about your sexual health, discuss the appropriate preventative health tests or procedures, and ask you about any problems you are currently experiencing. The doctor will then likely perform a comprehensive exam (including breast and pelvic exam). If the patient is new and/or under 18 without any complaints, I may skip the pelvic exam but discuss it so that the patient is prepared when she does need one in the future.
Why is it important to establish a relationship early with an OBGYN?Your relationship with your OBGYN is very important because we are often discussing sensitive and potentially embarrassing subjects. If you aren’t comfortable with your doctor, it is likely that you won’t be able to fully communicate your concerns and they could go untreated as a result.
How often should you have a pap smear? The pap smear guidelines are forever changing these days as we get better data and better tests to direct our care. The pap test is currently performed every three to five years if the results are normal and you are not experiencing any additional symptoms. HOWEVER, a yearly visit is recommended, and most OBGYNs perform a breast and pelvic exam at each visit, even if the actual pap test isn’t performed. There is often confusion over the difference between a pap smear and a pelvic exam. The pap smear is the collection of cells from the cervix to test them for abnormalities and HPV infections. A pelvic exam is the act of using a speculum to check the vaginal walls and cervix and using your hands to check the size and position of the uterus and ovaries.
What do you tell people to expect when going in for their first pap smears?When a woman is getting their first ever pap I will typically explain what a pap smear tests for -- cervical cellular abnormalities (i.e. pre-cancerous or cancerous cells) and the presence of HPV, which is a sexually-transmitted virus that causes almost all cervical abnormalities. I will then show them a speculum and explain how I use it. I also discuss the bimanual exam that follows which is when two fingers are placed vaginally and the other hand is on the abdomen in an attempt to feel the size and position of the uterus and ovaries. It can also alert me to abnormal pelvic pain triggered by pressure on the organs. I usually also explain that the exam can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t really hurt. If the woman is especially nervous or intolerant of the exam, we may do as much as possible and try again at another appointment or the following year to complete it. Regardless, I am quick to point out that although everyone tells me they hate getting a pap smear and going to the dentist, I am much quicker at my exam than any dentist is at theirs!
Having a relationship with your OBGYN is so important and I am so glad to get the facts from Dr. Lange. To reach her office, please call 513-564-1600.