Although many patients may think a well woman exam focuses on reproduction and gynecological concerns, overall health is also an important issue. The well woman exam should include a full physical examination and health history. An annual pelvic exam and clinical breast exam are also part of a well woman exam. Well woman exams include Pap smears at designated intervals and may also include testing for sexually transmitted diseases as well as other lab and diagnostic tests.
During the childbearing years in particular, well woman exams tend to lean heavily toward reproductive issues. Hormonal influences can affect fertility, result in heavy or irregular periods, or menstrual cramps. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is another condition more likely to show up in the childbearing years. But women also need other kinds of care: cancer screening, nutrition, and general health and lifestyle advice. Rather than have two separate appointments, doctors usually cover all those topics during a well-woman exam.
Women have an increased risk of some diseases that have nothing to do with reproduction. Among them are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, as well as mental health conditions like depression. They are also more likely to develop hypothyroidism (low thyroid), which can affect fertility and breast cancer. Of course, women also face issues like ovarian and uterine cancer. After menopause, a woman’s risk of certain diseases, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, increases.
It’s impossible to maintain good health without attention to the basics. A healthy diet provides vital nutrients, and women, who are more likely to diet than men, may be susceptible to nutritional deficiency. Sleep deprivation and stress may have a greater effect on women, who often bear the primary responsibility for childcare and family, so adequate sleep and stress management are also important. Regular exercise helps with both, and it can help women lose or maintain weight as well as promote heart health.
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