What is your gynecologist up to?

Do you know what happens at your annual gyn exam? More women are vigilant about seeing their gynecologist than they are about seeing their internist. We tend to worry a bit more about the female parts, and because of reproduction, a lot of us simply get into the habit of visiting the stirrup table once a year. We feel good about checking the box that it is done, but what is actually happening?

Weight, blood pressure, pulse: self-explanatory.

Breast exam: self explanatory.

What’s going on down below? Maybe you would rather not think about it, but take ownership of your health and know what your doctor is looking at and looking for.
First, your doctor will look at your external genitalia to make sure there are no rashes, changes or deformities. Then, he or she will insert a speculum to check out the vaginal canal and look at your cervix, which is the bottom of your uterus. This is the part that dilates when you have a baby, but normally just has small opening. If you are due for a pap smear, the doctor will collect cells from your cervical os, or opening, which will be sent out to screen for cervical cancer and HPV. In some cases, cultures will also be sent to screen for STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Read: Do you need a pap smear?

Next, he or she will perform a bimanual exam to feel your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and your ovaries. The size of these organs as well as the presence of any masses will be assessed. One hand will be on your lower abdomen and two fingers of the other hand in your vagina. You will feel some pressure, but this shouldn’t be painful. Depending on your age and any symptoms, your doctor may then perform a rectal exam to feel the anatomy and by testing the stool for blood, can screen for colon cancer.

The breast exam is an initial screening for breast cancer. The pap smear screens for cervical cancer. The bimanual exam sometimes can pick up uterine or ovarian cancer. The rectal exam can be used to screen for colon cancer. This is all very important, but as a Family Doctor, I have to remind you that you also have some other important organs — heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, I could go on. When you schedule your gyn visit, also schedule an appointment with your internist.


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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Physician, Wellness Coach, and founder of Tips From Town. She is passionate about sharing her medical expertise, her coaching techniques and her parenting experience to encourage happier and healthier lives.