Gynecology is the medical specialty devoted to women’s reproductive care. Routine gynecologic care for women should begin in the middle to late teens. At this age, unless the teen is sexually active, the appointment focuses on a basic physical exam and patient education; it offers the teen the opportunity to ask questions about sexuality and reproduction. Beginning at age 21, routine pelvic examinations and Pap smears are recommended for all women. Gynecological care continues at least through menopause and often into old age. Once a woman reaches menopause, her reproductive issues take a backseat to other health needs, but many of them are influenced or mediated by sex hormones like estrogen.
Women of every age need gynecological care, although their specific needs and issues may differ depending on age. Teens may have irregular periods or menstrual cramps or may need basic sex education. A sexually active woman of any age may need to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, and women who are still menstruating may need contraceptives. Once perimenopause begins, women may need help with symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, changes in sexual desire or sleep disturbances. Older women who are past menopause still need cancer screening in many cases and are at increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Those who remain sexually active may need care and advice specific to the older woman.
One of the most important aspects of general gynecological care is the annual well woman exam, which may or may not include a Pap smear and clinical breast exam. Other routine services include birth control, STD testing, hormone therapy, and treatment of conditions like urinary stress incontinence and vaginal atrophy. Gynecologists may also provide treatment for or collaborate with an endocrinologist when a woman has a condition like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Many in-office gynecological procedures are available, such as fitting a diaphragm or inserting an IUD or treating human papilloma virus infection with colposcopy. Gynecologists are also surgeons, who can perform procedures like hysterectomies, permanent sterilization, or dilation and curettage.
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