The Well Woman Visit

One of the most important steps women of all ages should take is to schedule an annual well woman visit.
A well woman visit is a physical exam typically performed by your primary care provider or a gynecologist, a specialist in women’s health. The purpose of the exam is to get a picture of your overall health, perform screenings and tests to help with early detection of disease, provide preventive care, review lifestyle issues that affect disease risk and address any health changes.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that women age 18 and over have an annual well woman exam.  
Kenneth Lee, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. gynecologist at Tyrone Regional Health Network’s Breast Cancer & Women’s Health Institute said components of the well woman exam are tailored to each woman’s age, and personal and family health history so each woman’s unique health needs are addressed.  “There are guidelines on when to begin most types of screenings. So, a woman’s exam will change over the years as a result. For example, it is recommended that initial cervical cancer screening begin at age 25 for low risk women. Mammograms for breast cancer screening should begin at age 40. Colon cancer screening is recommended beginning at age 40 with an initial colonoscopy at age 50. These guidelines are followed unless a person is identified as high risk and needs to begin screening at an earlier age,” said Dr. Lee.  
A well woman exam typically includes a review of personal health history, family health history, allergies, current medications herbs and supplements taken. Sexual history will be reviewed to determine risk of sexually transmitted disease. Vital signs are checked which includes blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and respiration. Height and weight are measured. Tests that may be completed include: blood testing to check for early signs of heart and blood vessel disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and other conditions and bone density testing to check for osteoporosis. Breast health will be evaluated through a breast exam and completion of a mammogram. A PAP test will be administered to screen for cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV). A pelvic exam will be performed to check the health of a women’s reproductive organs. Screening for colon cancer may also be ordered. Some tests, for example the PAP test, may be performed at your provider’s office while others may require a visit to a separate facility offering outpatient testing. Your provider will advise you on which tests you need to have as part of your exam and how often they need to be repeated based on your age and your unique health history.
Preventative care is also an important part of the annual well woman visit. Your provider will recommend immunizations to help keep you well and lower your risk for certain diseases and illness. Examples of immunizations that may be recommended include those to prevent flu, tetanus and pneumonia.  Additionally, a review of your lifestyle including eating habits, activity level and use of alcohol and tobacco will help identify opportunities to lower your disease risk and support good health. If you have health goals, like weight loss or smoking cessation, your provider can guide you or direct you to resources to help you achieve your healthy lifestyle goals.
Dr. Lee said it is important to schedule a visit annually to be proactive about your health and to be sure you begin health screenings in the appropriate timeframes. “If you go several years between exams, you run the risk of a health problem going undetected. Many conditions are more easily treated or managed if caught in their early stages,” said Dr. Lee.   
Some insurance companies cover preventative services.  Remember to check your insurance policy to see what yearly preventative services or women’s health screenings are covered.
Women age 21 and over who have no insurance or limited insurance may be eligible to receive cancer screenings through the HealthyWoman program, a service of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  The Breast Cancer & Women’s Health Institute is a provider in the HealthyWoman program to give women in Blair, Clearfield, Centre, Cambria and Huntingdon counties increased access to essential health services.
To schedule a well woman visit at the Breast Cancer & Women’s Health Institute or for more information about the HealthyWoman program, call (814) 684-3101.

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