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Don’t Skip Your Well-Woman Visits

By Natasha Alligood-Percoco, MD OB/GYN specialist at UPMC Susquehanna While you may not need a Pap test every year, there are plenty of reasons to check in with your doctor for an annual well-woman visit. Regularly seeing your gynecologist assures that you set the right schedule for health screenings and catches potential problems early. Women

By Natasha Alligood-Percoco, MD
OB/GYN specialist at UPMC Susquehanna

While you may not need a Pap test every year, there are plenty of reasons to check in with your doctor for an annual well-woman visit. Regularly seeing your gynecologist assures that you set the right schedule for health screenings and catches potential problems early.

Women are sometimes embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing their health, but you should never be afraid to talk to your doctor about any topic.

During a physical wellness exam, your doctor will examine your pelvis, breasts, and abdomen for any abnormalities or noticeable changes from your last visit. The doctor will also review your family history to determine the appropriate scheduling for your health screenings and discuss any concerns you have about your physical or emotional health.

To gain the most from your exam, bring a list of any medications you take, allergies, and changes in your family history, particularly with regard to breast and ovarian cancer. Pay attention to your menstrual cycle over the past 6-12 months and discuss any changes in length, frequency, or regularity.

It’s important to be open with your doctor about changes in your body and any concerns you have. An annual exam is a great place to lay out any concerns you want to tackle. If you are struggling with urinary incontinence, vaginal dryness, or hormonal mood changes during your period, tell your doctor.

Unsure what to discuss at your next well-woman exam? Review the timeline below to help you plan your questions and learn what to expect:

First Exam (ages 13-15): Young women should have their first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. This exam doesn’t include a Pap test or internal pelvic exam, but it lays the groundwork for conversations about changes to the body as we age and menstrual health. At this first exam, you may want to talk about any heavy menstrual bleeding, cramps, PMS, or other issues related to your monthly cycle.

Early 20s-40s: It’s recommended to complete your first internal pelvic exam and Pap test at age 21, and these screenings are typically repeated every two to five years. Your doctor will discuss when to have your first mammogram based on your family history and health. At your yearly exam, the doctor may discuss your sexual and reproductive health as well. If you are ready to welcome a child, your OB/GYN can provide pre-conception counseling and preparation. If you are trying to become pregnant without success, you can discuss options for fertility evaluation and treatment.

Ages 45-60: During these visits, you may begin to broach menopausal symptoms and irregular menstrual cycles in addition to your previous women’s wellness screenings and discussions. Your OB/GYN will discuss the pros and cons of hormone therapy and other treatments that can relieve some menopausal symptoms.

Women 60+: Common concerns addressed at these exams include cancer screenings, bone health, sexual health, urinary or pelvic floor issues, and any post-menopausal bleeding, which should be reported immediately.

It’s tempting to skip or delay well-woman exams when you’re feeling healthy, but regular visits help you develop a close relationship with your doctor and create a healthy baseline to compare changes. Ensuring potential issues are diagnosed early will help keep you in excellent health.

For more information or to make a wellness visit appointment, call 570- 321-3301.

Dr. Natasha Alligood-Percoco is an OB/GYN specialist at UPMC Susquehanna. Her office is located on the UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport campus in the Health Innovation Center, Suite 1004. 740 High St., Williamsport.

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