When was your last well-woman exam? “I don’t have any health concerns right now and I’m too busy.” Does this sound like you? We get it, but staying on top of your health is key to effectively managing life’s demands. If it’s been more than a year since your well-woman visit, it’s time to reach out to your women’s health provider.

No matter your age, for women and people assigned female at birth, taking care of your health requires more than an annual physical. A well-woman exam focuses on different issues than a physical from a primary care doctor. Regular visits to a women’s health specialist, such as an OB/GYN or nurse practitioner, are essential to maintain your reproductive health and ensure the well-being of your sexual organs, which can directly impact both your physical and emotional health.

In addition, these annual visits provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with your women’s health provider, establishing a trusted partner to call on in the event of future health issues. Plus, many insurance plans cover these visits at no cost.

Adolescents and Young Adults

For younger patients, well-woman visits are the first step in establishing a lifetime of reproductive and sexual health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that teens begin seeing an ob-gyn between the ages of 13 and 15, typically around the time of their first period. The first visit often involves discussions without an exam, allowing young patients to ask questions about their bodies, periods, puberty and sexual health in a safe environment. This is a great time to discuss future exams, including pelvic and breast exams, Pap tests and vaccinations like the HPV vaccine, which is recommended before a person is sexually active.

Reproductive Years

During your reproductive years, your annual well-woman exam is vital for screening for issues like breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer that aren’t a part of a regular physical exam. These visits also provide an opportunity to discuss contraception options, ask fertility questions, address any menstrual irregularities or concerns about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can also discuss family planning and preconception care, checking for any potential risks and addressing any medical issues you may have before you get pregnant. Well-woman exams during this stage focus on maintaining reproductive health, detecting potential issues early and providing guidance on family planning and overall wellness.

Through Menopause and Beyond

Once you transition into menopause, while periods and childbirth are a thing of the past, don’t think you can skip this exam. During this stage of life, regular well-woman visits become vital for monitoring hormonal changes, bone density and breast health. During menopause, decreasing estrogen levels can lead to new symptoms like vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence or high cholesterol. Additionally, declining estrogen affects bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and makes them more prone to fractures. While the focus of well-woman exams may shift during menopause, their importance remains critical for your continued health and well-being.

Prioritize your Health

Routine well-woman visits are vital to women’s health across all life stages. Whether it’s addressing reproductive health in adolescence, managing fertility and contraception in the reproductive years or navigating menopausal changes, these visits serve as pillars of preventive care and holistic well-being. By prioritizing regular check-ups with a women’s health specialist and staying proactive about health maintenance, you can empower yourself to lead a healthier, happier life.