Which tests are appropriate at which age? The right time to start seeing a gynecologist is from the puberty, as this is the time where the reproductive organs start maturing. Women should undergo the first gynecological test between the ages 13 to 15 or after becoming sexually active.
Early years – age 15 to 21
Very rarely, the women at the age of 20s understand the need to see the gynecologist. But the ideal age for the first gynecological exam is around 15 years. Sometimes we may think it is unnecessary to do so and would feel nervous about consulting the gynecologist. However, considerably these are the years where the woman should start her annual health check-up.
Most often, from age group 15 to 21, the annual visit to the gynecologist is usually involved more in clearing the concerns or any queries than any physical exams. Topics such as contraception, sexually transmission of disease and menstruation are discussed.
At age 21, it is recommended that every woman have their first Pap smear test. After that, the Pap smear must be done every three years between ages 21 and 30 for testing cervical cancer.
• Routine breast and pelvic exam
• Pap test
• Pelvic exam
During the annual visit, there are also another set of exams performed to assess the woman’s overall health status. The tests may vary based on the age and sexual history; here are some tests which are performed during annual gynecological examinations:
• Breast exam
• Pelvic exam
• Pam smear
• Blood pressure check
• HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) screening
• Measurement of basal metabolic index
• Urine analysis
• Complete blood picture
• Thyroid screening
• Cholesterol screening
These annual gynecological exams, lets you understand your health status, and also help in monitoring any ongoing physical and hormonal alterations in the body.
Ages 22 to 44
This age group is usually categorized as family planning age, starting at this stage in life; the annual exam includes a breast exam, an abdominal exam, and a pelvic exam. Any abnormalities in the body are checked, such as lumps or painful areas, and your doubts about any illness are discussed by the doctor.
At the annual visit, the blood pressure, body mass index, blood glucose levels are checked. The doctor would discuss with you about weight management, nutrition, and other health ailments such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Mostly the patients in this age are either interested in becoming pregnant or preventing pregnancy. Hence, the doctor discusses on contraceptive options, fertility options, and about preconception counselling. You may also be instructed for choosing healthy lifestyle options to lead the life at its best.
At age 30, it is highly recommended to get tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) as this is the most common viral infection that occurs in women who are in their 30s. As, some strains of HPV are potential of causing cervical cancer, head or neck cancers, and genital warts if left untreated. Recently, a new vaccine for HPV has been invented, and many women in this age group might not have received in their childhood.
HPV test can be performed simultaneously with the sample provided for Pap smear. Current guidelines suggest the test can be done once in every three to five years until Pap smear and HPV are normal. If there are any abnormalities found in Pap smear, the doctor may recommend on how often you must come back for the test again.
Pelvic exam: Most women in this age have a menstrual cycle, and some women may develop ovarian cysts which are self-limiting. If the lumps are not self-limiting then ultrasound is performed to check if the lump is malignant. Ultrasounds are done abdominally or transvaginally.
Menopause: Ages 45 to 54
The average age where women strike menopause is, 50 to 52. At this stage in life, many women face problems with their periods. This may be due to hormonal fluctuations leading to menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, mood swings, and hot flashes.
The doctor would discuss all the issues in the annual visit and determine the treatment options, below are some of the options to treat menopausal symptoms:
• Lifestyle modifications (diet and exercise)
• Hormone replacement therapy
• An alternative, complementary approaches, like acupuncture
Mammogram: Mammogram helps in early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. At this age, women should start undergoing mammograms, as women in this age group are at risk of developing breast cancer.
Bone density test: At this age, there is a scarcity of estrogen in woman’s body that could lead to bone loss and eventually can cause osteoporosis. Therefore a bone density test must be in there to do list.
Age 55 and thereon
Women in this age group often encounter more health ailments related to hormonal changes. The common issues could be vaginal dryness or decreased sexual desire. So these issues are discussed and the doctor counsel the patients if required.
Vulva examination: Woman in their 60s and 70s are more concern about the vulva which is the outside of the vagina. Ageing can cause irritating or painful symptoms due to reduced estrogen levels. The vulva must be examined closely during the annual visit, particularly after age 55, which is helpful in treating and managing the skin conditions and potentially worthy in detecting early-stage cancer.
Therefore, a woman must visit the gynecologist well before family planning and should not end after the reproductive years. It’s important for women to be mindful of their health needs to foster wellness through all stages of life.