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When Should Teens See a Gynecologist?

Monday, July 25, 2022 10:31 AM

Even if your teenager is healthy, it’s important to begin establishing a relationship with a gynecologist sooner rather than later. Being proactive can help set her on a healthier path for the rest of her life.

Nurse Showing Patient Test Results On Digital TabletHere, Erica N. Smith, MD, NorthShore Obstetrician and Gynecologist, answers common questions, including when to start seeing a gynecologist, why teens should see one and what happens during the first visit.

When should teens start seeing a gynecologist?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. Although this is the recommendation, some young girls may need to have a first visit before age 13 and others might delay it a few years. I would recommend at least seeing a gynecologist for the first visit before turning 21 years old.

Why should teens see a gynecologist?
There are several reasons teens might see a gynecologist. These reasons typically fall into four categories:

  • Menstrual cycle: This includes managing painful or heavy periods, premenstrual symptoms and irregular bleeding.
  • Contraception/pregnancy: Teen pregnancy is on the decline, but teens are still seeking contraception for prevention of pregnancy and non-contraceptive reasons, such as managing acne or controlling menstrual cycles.
  • Sexuality and relationships: Teens can talk to their gynecologist if they are contemplating sexual activity or if they are questioning gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Sexually transmitted infections: A gynecologist can help inform teens about preventing sexually transmitted infections as well as provide testing for them.

How should parents and teens prepare for the first visit with a gynecologist?
A first visit with a gynecologist can be anxiety-provoking for teens. Parents should remind them that it’s a time to establish a relationship with a doctor as well as get answers to any questions they may have. Something I encourage my patients to do is to bring three questions to the appointment. This can help them feel more comfortable during the appointment as well as learn how to advocate for themselves.

What happens during the first visit with a gynecologist?
Many teens are worried about their first visit because they assume it will include a pap smear and internal exam. The truth is that most teens will not need either of these during the first visit. I start my visits with introductions and ask a few questions to get to know the patient and establish rapport. We go over her health history and do a general physical exam that includes taking height, weight and blood pressure. We may or may not do a breast exam. If we decide to skip it during this appointment, I’ll explain how to do a breast self-exam. Depending on the patient’s areas of concern, I might need to do an external genital exam or internal exam. Before doing either, I’ll walk the patient through what she’ll experience and why we’re doing it.

How often do teens need to see a gynecologist?
I recommend annual visits to make sure we stay current on contraception needs, sexually transmitted infections and any other health concerns. If there are any health issues, I may recommend more frequent follow-ups.

How does NorthShore University HealthSystem help women stay healthy through every stage of life?
NorthShore University HealthSystem provides comprehensive care for women. Our gynecologists diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. Our Center for Pelvic Health provides subspecialist care for urinary incontinence, endometriosis, fibroids and other pelvic health disorders. Our Certified Nurse-Midwives, experts in pregnancy and postpartum care, can provide a full spectrum of women’s health care including regular gynecology visits. Our goal is to help women feel their best during every stage of life.

To learn more about NorthShore University HealthSystem’s care for women, visit us online or call 847.570.5020.