Wellness exams are vital in maintaining good health. For women, biological differences can present a series of unique challenges, as many problems common amongst both sexes, including stroke, heart disease, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) present differently for women than men.
In addition, women have hormonal and reproductive differences that give them other concerns about their health. As a result, regular visits to get your annual exam are more important.
Women also have to cope with various issues and changes associated with aging. For well-woman visits, that can mean changing the priorities of what to address and what illnesses to screen for.
Let’s review the changes in these examinations as we look at the basics of the well-woman visit, the changes your body goes through over time, and what the exams do to adapt to those changes.
While very similar to regular physical examinations, which focus more on testing for blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and vitals to everyone’s health, a well-woman exam primarily assesses your reproductive health. These screenings and exams can give you a clear picture of menstruation, fertility, hormonal imbalances, and sexual wellness issues and address concerns with contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).
We may use general tests typical of a regular physical and accompany them with breast and pelvic exams, questions about irregularities to your menstrual cycle, information about sexual activity relating to your health, and pap smears, depending on your age. This step can lead to mammograms, STI screenings, or other tests related to the results.
Our bodies are changing all the time, from birth to puberty, adulthood, and old age. The developmental process from childhood into puberty is a milestone in our maturity, as it leads to our endocrine system working overtime, producing hormones like estrogen and progesterone. That begins our reproductive development, causing changes like growing taller, developing breasts and pubic hair, and starting the menstrual cycle.
Your development during puberty also leads to metabolic changes throughout the body, which are affected by the calories you eat, and how much gets burned off through digestion, exercise, and routine activities.
As you age, many hormonal and metabolic changes result from the end of your reproductive cycle in the form of menopause, which is the point where your body stops producing large amounts of hormones, affecting a wide range of biological processes, including mood, your sleep cycle, bone density, sexual interests, and an increase in risks or many health conditions.
The priorities of the well-woman visit change throughout your lifetime based on the following variations:
This stage in your life is where you’re maturing into adulthood, so the focus is on educating you on the changes you’re going through, talking about things like alcohol, drugs, sexual activity, mental health, and body image. Immunizations for hepatitis, tetanus, chickenpox, human papillomavirus (HPV), and regular flu shots are also common.
During this stage of life, the focus is on reproductive health, including sexual health, family planning, and testing for cancers, STIs, diabetes, and other conditions using pelvic exams, pap smears, mammograms, and blood and urine screenings.
The transition out of your reproductive years starts here, with more focus on these changes in your body and assessing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast, colorectal, or cervical cancers. Bone density and hormonal changes are also often addressed at this point.
The focus of wellness exams during post-menopause is on assessing your life with lower hormone levels, including managing bone density issues, maintaining mental health, and regular breast exams. At this point, you need to manage the risk for diabetes, osteoporosis, vision problems, and cancer more closely.
As you continue to change, your well-woman exam needs to change with you along the way. Regardless of your stage of life, when you need a well-woman exam, make an appointment with Dr. Okafor and Sugarland Primary Care Physicians today.