If you’ve never scheduled a visit to a gynecologist, you may be wondering what a well-woman exam entails. Just the thought of having to take off your clothes and have a medical professional examine your most private region is enough to make anyone anxious. Yet, these types of visits are essential to ensure the health of your reproductive organs. But, what, exactly, is a well-woman exam? Why are they necessary? And, what can you expect?
What is a well-woman exam?
A well-woman exam is a checkup to determine the health of your vagina, cervix, and uterus. It consists of three examinations: a pelvic exam, a pap smear, and a breast exam. In addition, your healthcare provider will ask general questions about your overall well being — family and work life, emotional and mental health, and answer any questions about recent concerns you may have. The reason these additional questions are asked is to determine whether you could benefit from being referred to a specialist.
Prior to getting started with the physical examination, you will be given a paper robe, then left alone in the examination room so that you can remove your clothes and put on the robe. The opening of the robe goes in the front, so that the OB-GYN or nurse practitioner can conduct the examinations. You will then lay down on an examination table. Prior to reentering the examination room, your healthcare provider will knock on the door, asking if you’re ready. Once they come in, they will conduct the pelvic exam, pap smear, and breast examination.
During the pelvic exam, an OB-GYN or nurse practitioner will lubricate and insert two gloved fingers in your vaginal canal and apply pressure on the abdomen to determine anything that’s unusual in or around the uterus — such as lumps, bumps, tenderness, or pain that you shouldn’t be feeling. The healthcare professional will lightly push on each side of the abdomen, as well as the middle.
For the pap smear, the healthcare provider will insert a lubricated speculum into your vaginal canal to have a better view of your vulva, vagina, and cervix. She will then use a cotton swab to gather cells from your cervix. These cells will then be sent to a lab to verify whether they are healthy or if they show any signs of precancerous activity.
Once the first two examinations are completed, your healthcare professional will ask you to place one arm behind your head. She will then gently press around each breast in small, circular motions to determine whether the tissue feels healthy or whether there are any cysts or lumps. This step is crucial for early detection of breast cancer. That said, not all lumps end up being cancerous. In fact, many breast changes may be benign. If your doctor or nurse has any reason for concern, she will order a biopsy.
How to Prepare for a Well-Woman Exam
You won’t have to do much to get ready for your well-woman exam. However, you can do the following to ensure an accurate reading of your pap smear results:
Keep Track of Your Menstrual Cycle
The reason why this is important is because you will be asked when you had your last period. If possible, keep track of it on a calendar or smartphone app. Your OB-GYN or nurse will want this information to determine whether they should consider hormonal imbalances or a possible pregnancy during your examinations.
Limit Sexual Activity
Avoid having sexual intercourse with a man for 48 hours before your appointment. This is recommended because semen may interfere with the pap smear samples, as well as create an imbalance of good bacteria in your vagina. Wearing a condom won’t help, since latex could also cause inflammation of your vaginal canal.
Frequently Asked Questions About a Well-Woman Exam
1. Will the pelvic exam or pap smear hurt?
No, neither exam hurts. However, it may feel slightly uncomfortable or awkward if you’ve never had sexual intercourse. For the pelvic exam, your healthcare professional will lubricate their fingers prior to inserting them into your vaginal canal, to minimize the discomfort. You will also feel mild pressure as your doctor or nurse practitioner pushes down on your abdomen.
For the pap smear, your healthcare provider will also lubricate the speculum to minimize any discomfort. That said, the speculum may feel cold.
2. How long does a well-woman exam take?
The entire process will only take several minutes. However, since your healthcare professional will discuss your medical history and ask preliminary questions prior to the physical examinations, the entire visit could last approximately 30 minutes.
3. Will someone else be in the examination room beside you and your nurse?
In addition to the OB-GYN or nurse practitioner, an additional healthcare provider may be present to witness the examination and assist your OB-GYN or nurse practitioner — such as by taking the cotton swab with the sample of cervical cells once the pap has been completed.
4. When will you receive the exam results?
Once your pap sample is sent to a lab, results should be available in about a week. No news is good news — if everything is fine with your cells, you won’t hear back from your healthcare professional until it’s time to schedule your next well-woman exam appointment. However, if there are any irregularities, you will receive a call to schedule a follow-up visit for further testing.
5. How often do you have to schedule a well-woman exam?
You should schedule a well-woman examination once a year. This is crucial to preserve your health — especially if you’ve ever had an abnormal pap smear, a family history of cancer, a sexually transmitted disease, or any other concerns regarding your sexual and/or reproductive health. This is because early detection — of either cervical or breast cancer — provides you with a greater chance of surviving the diagnosis. In fact, because a pap test can detect cell abnormalities before they turn into cancer, these types of exams could save your life.
If You Need to Schedule Your First Well-Woman Exam, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including pneumonia vaccine. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.