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Why see a gynecologist?

Doctor and patient.

Going to see a gynecologist — a doctor who focuses on women's reproductive health — means you’re taking responsibility for your body in new ways. It can be very exciting to know you’re making sure all is going well with puberty, your reproductive system, and more. Keep in mind that other doctors also can help with gynecological issues. For example, an adolescent medicine specialist, family doctor, or pediatrician can answer questions and may be able to examine your vagina too.

Of course, it can be stressful to deal with a whole new type of doctor’s visit (and nobody loves those paper gowns!), but learning more can help you know what to expect. Read answers to these common questions:

Why see a gynecologist? arrow top

Seeing a gynecologist can:

  • Help you understand your body and how to care for it
  • Establish what is normal for you so you can notice any problem changes, like signs of a vaginal infection
  • Allow the doctor to find problems early so they can be treated or kept from getting worse
  • Explain what a normal vaginal discharge should look like and what could be a sign of a problem
  • Teach you how to protect yourself if you have sex

Your gynecologist can answer any questions you have at what can be a time full of changes. It’s great to build a relationship with your gynecologist over the years so he or she understands your health and what matters to you.

When do I need to go? arrow top

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that teenage girls start seeing a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. That way you can start forming a relationship with the doctor and learning about your body. If you don’t go at that time, you should make sure to visit a gynecologist or other health professional who can take care of women’s reproductive health if:

  • You have ever had sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) or intimate sexual contact
  • It has been three months or more since your last period and you haven’t gotten it again
  • You have stomach pain, fever, and fluid coming from your vagina that is yellow, gray, or green with a strong smell — all of which are possible signs of a serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • You are having problems with your period, like a lot of pain, bleeding heavily, or bleeding for longer than usual
  • You have not gotten your period by the age of 15 or within three years of when your breasts started to grow
  • You’ve had your period for two years and it’s still not regular or comes more than once a month
  • If you are having sex and missed your period

What will happen at the visit?

It’s understandable if you’re nervous about your first visit. Keep in mind that part of the time will be spent just talking. Your doctor may ask questions about you and your family to learn if you have a history of illnesses. And you can ask the doctor any questions you might have. Don’t worry — your doctor probably has already heard every question imaginable! You can talk about any concerns you have, including:
 

  • Cramps and problem periods
  • Acne
  • Weight issues
  • Feeling depressed
  • Sexually transmitted infections

If you are sexually active, tell your doctor. You likely will need to be tested for sexually transmitted infections like HIV and chlamydia. STIs are common among young people, and you can have an STI without having any symptoms. Don’t let any possible embarrassment put your health — or your life — at risk.

During your visit, your doctor will probably go through some of the usual items on a doctor’s checkup checklist, like weighing you and measuring your blood pressure. He or she also may do a breast exam. It’s common for young women to have some lumpiness in their breasts, but your doctor may want to make sure you don’t have problem lumps or pain.

You may have heard of Pap tests and pelvic exams and wonder if you need them. Most likely you won’t need either of these until you’re 21. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends Pap tests for women starting at 21.) If you are sexually active or have symptoms like an unusual vaginal fluid or a history of problems, there’s a chance your doctor may choose to do one or both of these. It’s helpful, then, to know what to expect.

A pelvic exam usually involves the doctor examining the outside of your genital area (the vulva). It may also involve the doctor using a tool called a speculum to look inside your vagina. Frequently, he or she also will feel inside to make sure organs like your ovaries and uterus feel okay. You probably will feel pressure, but it shouldn’t hurt. Try to relax — breathing deeply can help.

A Pap test is done by gently taking some cells from your cervix. These cells are checked for changes that could be cancer or that could turn into cancer.

If you haven’t already had the HPV vaccine, ask your doctor about it. It helps guard against the human papillomavirus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer.

During the exam, if the doctor is male, a female nurse or assistant will also be in the room. Don’t forget that you can ask for things that will make the visit more comfortable. For example, you usually can have your mom, sister, or a friend stay in the room with you during the visit. And you can ask questions about what’s going to happen so you know what to expect.

Taking care of your health is a huge sign that you are growing up. Be proud of yourself for learning information that can protect your health. If you want to read more, visit our list of websites and other resources.

 

Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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