When was the last time you went to the doctor? Probably when you were ill or injured – in other words, when there was an actual ‘reason’ to go.
You’re not the only one. Most of us only visit a healthcare professional when something goes wrong. But if you’re a woman, it’s a little different: you should be having regular well woman visits, even if you feel perfectly healthy.
Women have a unique set of healthcare needs that require preventative care. Preventative care refers to health checks and tests that ensure you’re not at risk of developing a serious illness as you age and your body changes. That’s because there are some diseases that can be detected in women and treated before they develop.
What is well woman care?
A well woman visit (or well woman care) includes gynaecological examinations and other check-ups to ensure you’re in good health, and to detect any issues as early as possible. They also help you understand your own personal health risks and what you can do to minimise them. Remember: early prevention can save your life.
The 3 things that happen at a well woman visit
Talking through your health habits and history
Before your physical exam, the doctor or nurse will chat to you about your overall health. This is to help them gain a better understanding of your medical history, family health history, your sexual health, eating habits and physical activity levels, your use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, any mental health issues, your relationships and your overall physical safety. Be as open, honest and forthcoming as possible – the more information your doctor or nurse has, the more effectively they can treat you. They’re not there to judge.
The gynecological exam
Next is the physical exam. This will likely include recording your weight and height, your BMI, your blood pressure and your temperature. There’ll also be a clinical breast exam (feeling your breasts and under your arms for lumps or other changes), a pap smear, and a pelvic exam.
Setting health goals
This part is to help keep you healthy or improve your current wellbeing. You and the doctor or nurse will chat about ways to do this, and together you can decide which screenings or follow-up care is right for you. Your doctor or nurse can also help give you practical steps towards achieving specific health goals you may have, like quitting smoking, being more active or losing weight.
Depending on your health status, your visit may also include screenings for alcohol misuse, cholesterol, depression, HIV and STIs, and/or blood pressure. You may receive vaccinations and immunisations if necessary, as well as contraceptive counselling and/or nutrition and diet counselling.
I’m ready to have a well woman visit. Where can I go?
The Marie Stopes centres across SA offer well woman care provided by experienced nurses. Our services include complete women’s wellness check-ups, as well as contraceptive services, HIV testing and STI screening and management, and pap smears.
All our services are carried out in a confidential, caring and trustworthy environment, and are designed to help you achieve better health – and to stay healthy.