From menstrual periods and sensitive breasts to pregnancy and contraception, women deal with a lot. This is why there is an entire medical specialty dedicated to women and their specific anatomy and physiology.
However, many women are not sure what exactly gynecologists do, when to see them, and how they’re different from other providers.
We’re going to answer the ultimate question: when should you start going to the gynecologist?
What Do Gynecologists Do?
Gynecologists are medical doctors who specialize in women’s health. They focus especially on the female reproductive system.
They are trained to deal with pregnancy, childbirth, fertility issues, menstruation, hormone disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, and other problems that you may have with your reproductive system.
Gynecologists go through eight years of intense training. They are then certified and registered.
It should be noted that obstetricians are under a branch of gynecology. Obstetricians are gynecologists who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth.
Why Should You See The Gynecologist?
Physicians urge women to visit a gynecologist annually. This does not include times when you may have any complaints or problems to address.
There are a few conditions that gynecologists treat most commonly:
- sexually transmitted diseases
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- sexual dysfunction
- cancers of the reproductive system
- breast cancer
- vaginal ulcers
- ovarian cysts
- polycystic ovarian syndrome
- problems with pregnancy and fertility
- issues with the menstrual period
Some gynecologists also offer general health care. This includes – but is not limited to – the following:
- thyroid disorders
- cardiac issues
- psychiatric conditions
- back pain
- hormonal issues
Gynecologists are able to address many health issues that women may have. They are able to diagnose and treat these issues as well.
When Should You Start Going to the Gynecologist?
Gynecologists are able to treat women or girls of any age.
Women could start seeing a gynecologist as early as the age of 12, since the average age of menarche (the onset of menstrual periods) is 12 years and 9 months in the United States. However, most women between the age of menarche and the age of eighteen can be managed by a pediatrician or a primary care physician.
Younger patients are referred to management by a gynecologist if they have any number of symptoms or problems related to women’s health. This includes – but is not limited to – the following situations:
- delayed menarche (first menstrual period has not started by age 16)
- delayed puberty (no breast tissue changed by age 14)
- painful menstrual cycles that hinder everyday activities
- contraceptive needs
- sexual health concerns
- difficulty with wearing a tampon
Women are appropriate patients for gynecologists once puberty starts (or if puberty is late). However, some women don’t choose to see a gynecologist until they get a pap smear.
What About Pap Smears?
A pap smear is a procedure that gynecologists perform to test for cervical cancer in their patients. The physician will evaluate your reproductive anatomy and obtain a collection of cells from your cervix. This collection is sent off to a lab where it is tested for cervical cancer.
Many women do not decide to see their gynecologist for the first time until they have this procedure done for the first time at 21 years of age.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that gynecologists perform this procedure on their patients every three years. However, your gynecologist may perform the procedure more often depending on your risk.
Should You See a Gynecologist or a Primary Care Provider?
It may be difficult to decide whether to see a gynecologist or a primary care provider about your concerns related to women’s health.
As we touched on briefly, primary care providers are able to generally handle women’s health issues especially in young girls. However, some women have issues and concerns fit for workup with a gynecologist. Other women simply prefer to see a specialist to get an expert opinion.
Primary care providers are best suited for the following situations:
- regular checkups for chronic conditions
- evaluations for acute conditions
- new onset of pain
- new injury
Gynecologists are best suited for these situations:
- concerns about your reproductive system
- menstrual issues
- regular checkups during pregnancy
- concerns about infertility
- questions about contraception
- sexual health concerns
- preventative examinations/women’s health screenings
If you’re in doubt about which kind of physician you should see for your concern(s), give one of their offices a call. They are aware of what services they offer and what conditions they are skilled at diagnosing and treating.
Many medical offices also provide a list of services that they provide on their website. Take a look at this gynecologist office. Their website provides a list of conditions they are suited for treating as well as other information that the patient may want to know.
Finding the Right Gynecologist
Your gynecologist should be one of the physicians that you trust the most. Your chosen physician will be caring for your sex hormones and answering questions about your sexual health.
The choice in a gynecologist is arguably one of the most important choices women make. You should be able to tell the complete truth about any questions that the physician has without feeling judged. You should be able to voice your concerns without feeling ignored.
Many women get referrals from friends or family members, but it is possible to find a great physician on your own.
Be sure to check if your gynecologists meet the following criteria for you:
- sex preference (male vs female physician)
- insurance compatibility
- office availability
- location preference
It is your right as a patient to choose your gynecologist. Make the decision carefully.
The Final Verdict
So, when should you start going to the gynecologist?
It is ultimately your choice as the patient. Most women can wait until the age of 21 for the first exam and only revisit for pap smears. Others with the concerning symptoms or conditions discussed should be evaluated by a gynecologist regularly.
However, you may choose to see a gynecologist even if your cycles are normal and you have no concerns.
Do your research and find the right gynecologist for you.