by Dr. Monica Washington
From physicals for school sports to new binders for class to new fall clothes, parents can all attest to the fact that it is officially back to school season. If you’re the parent of a teenage daughter, there’s one other item that should be on your to-do list—taking them to the gynecologist. Of course, this visit can happen any time during the year, but including it in your back-to-school preparations can help keep it at the top of your mind.
When should you visit the gynecologist for the first time?
It is recommended that adolescent girls visit a gynecologist for the first time between the ages of 13 and 15, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If they are experiencing a health problem, or if they are sexually active, it’s important to take them sooner. It’s normal for them to be nervous, so open communication is key. Many times, the first visit is often simply a conversation between the patient and the doctor and may not include a pelvic exam. Of course, parents can be nervous too! Ask other parents and friends you trust for advice and input about their experience taking their daughter to her first visit.
What will the doctor and patient discuss?
Your daughter’s initial visit is a great opportunity for them to build trust with the doctor and learn more about their health. During the appointment, they’ll discuss body development and image, breast health, self-confidence, weight management, and menses—including cramps, irregular periods, and other potential issues. Personal hygiene, minimizing health risks, and immunizations for HPV and the flu may also be a part of the conversation. Talking about sex, sexuality, STIs, and pregnancy prevention will also be a key topic. 47% of females between the ages of 14 and 19 have had sex, and the teen pregnancy rate in the US is the highest among developed countries, with 75% of teen pregnancies being unintended. The more informed your daughter is about her health, the more likely it is that she’ll be able to identify the available resources and ask for help should she encounter a medical problem or have a concern.
Of course, because we strive to be your trusted partners in women’s health, our consultations with teenagers go beyond OB/GYN care. The initial visit is also a good time to screen for eating disorders, anxiety, depression, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, and discuss risky and unhealthy behaviors like alcohol and drugs. The most common mental health illnesses in adolescents are anxiety, mood, attention, and behavior disorders, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 15-24. It’s important for your daughter to have a support system of friends, family, teachers, and, yes, even her gynecologist to look out for warning signs and help provide her with any help she may need.
What exams are needed?
You may be saying—wow, that’s a lot of talking! It sure is. We want to get to know your daughter so that we can provide her with the personalized care she deserves. Of course, at some point, exams and screenings will be needed. An annual pelvic exam is recommended for patients 21 years and up or for patients who are having symptoms or who are sexually active. A patient may need an internal examination if they are complaining of menstrual disorders, vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain. Cervical cancer screening begins at age 21 and requires an internal exam. During a girl’s first visit, we do like to check her height, weight, blood pressure, listen to her lungs and heart, and check her abdomen and breasts. We can also test for sexually transmitted infections, which can be done from vaginal samples or urine samples for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Let’s face it—nobody looks forward to going to the gynecologist! But, we will work with you and your daughter to make it as comfortable as possible. We want to earn your trust and provide her with the care she needs to continue to be happy, healthy, and well-informed! If you need help talking to your daughter about her physical and emotional health, we encourage you to check out some great online resources, including Girlology. We know the first discussion can be tough, but we’re here to help. Give us a call today to schedule your daughter’s first visit!
Dr. Washington sees patients at Henrico Doctors Hospital Professional Building, St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Building–South, and West Creek Medical Park in Short Pump.