Simple but true: most women don’t look forward to their annual examination at the OB/GYN. It’s an uncomfortable visit, but it’s essential. Annual exams are key to the success of preventive care. Dr. Noel Anupol explains why those yearly appointments are so critical throughout our lifetime.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that young women have their first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15 – after they start their menstrual cycle.

“For some teens, their first visit to a gynecologist can be intimidating,” said Anupol. “Parents should help their daughters find a doctor who meets their needs and makes them feel comfortable. It’s important that the teen have a connection with her gynecologist.”

During a first visit, Anupol says that appropriate information regarding body image, sexuality, sexual activity and future reproductive plans are discussed. The majority of teens won’t have an examination on their first visit unless there are symptoms that call for one like painful menstruation. “I also encourage healthy lifestyle practices during the visit such as appropriate vaccinations, safe sex practices and prevention of sexually transmitted infection,” he said.

As women get older

By age 21, women should have a yearly pelvic examination and begin screening for cervical cancer regardless of sexual activity. Because screening recommendations change from time to time, having a yearly appointment with your gynecologist is preferred.

“During an annual visit, I talk to patients about their reproductive health including menstrual cycle, body image, weight, and overall well-being,” said Anupol. “Screening for cervical and breast cancer is an essential part of the conversation.”

Regular appointments shouldn’t be overlooked by those who are planning a family. “During pre-pregnancy visits, we do a thorough assessment of the patient’s risk factors,” said Anupol. “We want to be prepared for and possibly reduce complications during pregnancy. Prenatal visits are essential to keeping mom and baby healthy. While postpartum checkups help us make sure mom and baby are doing well both physically and emotionally.”

When we mature

Once menstruation ends, that doesn’t mean women can stop seeing their OB/GYNs. “Many problems can arise before and after menopause. There are a multitude of reasons why problems arise; no individual is the same and no single treatment will work for everybody,” said Anupol. “By continuing to see your OB/GYN, problems can be evaluated and treated correctly. Overall, the visits can improve a patient’s quality of life.”

Bottom line

Building a relationship with your OB/GYN may help motivate you to keep up with your appointments. “It’s important to develop a good long term professional relationship with patients. I watch them grow and start families. Not a lot of medical specialties follow patients throughout their life. It’s really quite special,” says Anupol.