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When girls should start gynecological care, and what to expect

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When girls should start gynecological care, and what to expect

Seeking gynecological care for the first time can be intimidating, but knowing what to expect can help.
The first question on the minds of many girls and their parents is when to begin routine care.
In general, girls should begin gynecological care between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“Seeking timely care is particularly important for young women who have difficulties with periods that impact her normal life, or anyone who is considering becoming sexually active or is already sexually active,” says Sonya Harden, a certified nurse midwife at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.
Receiving gynecological care for the first time can create anxiety, but it’s perfectly normal to be a little nervous. Let your care provider know you’re uneasy, and he or she can help you feel at ease.

Finding the right provider

Once you’ve decided to seek care, the next step is finding the right provider.
“It’s important to find a provider who is nonjudgmental and follows best practices,” Harden says. “In general, it’s best to see an OB-GYN, certified nurse midwife or a physician assistant or nurse practitioner who specializes in women’s health.”

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To help find someone you can trust and be comfortable with, do some research. Read online reviews and ask friends and loved ones for recommendations.
“Also, when you call the office, it’s important to be able to get in touch with someone who is helpful and knowledgeable,” Harden adds.
Insurance coverage is also a consideration for many people. Try to find a provider who is in network with your health insurance carrier, and check your benefits to see what services are covered.

What to expect

At your first appointment, you’ll be expected to know the first day of your last menstrual period, if applicable, and basic health information. You may also be asked to provide a urine sample. Weight and blood pressure checks will be completed, too.
“We will sit and talk about your needs, and then determine whether you need to be examined based on any concerns you may have,” Harden says. “You are welcome to have someone with you or you can meet privately with your provider.”

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First visits typically include a general overall physical exam and may include an external genital exam to allow your care provider to look for abnormalities or issues.
If you are sexually active, over the age of 21 or have a specific health concern, your care provider may also conduct a pelvic exam, which enables an examination of the exterior and interior of the vagina and cervix using an instrument that holds open the walls of the vagina. During this procedure, your provider may also check internal organs using a gloved hand.
Women 21 and older are also encouraged to receive Pap smears, which test for precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix. Pap smears are typically completed every three years unless a patient’s results are abnormal.

Contraceptives and STI screening

In addition to providing routine annual exams and Pap smears, your care provider can also provide contraceptive counseling.
To help reduce the risk of cervical and other forms of cancer, Harden encourages her patients to consider receiving the Gardisil 9 HPV vaccine, regularly use condoms and limit the number of their sexual partners.
“It’s important to know that many studies show teenagers are not more likely to become sexually active when they have access to contraceptives, but rather they are more likely to choose abstinence and/or practice safe sex when they have the information needed to make the best decisions for themselves,” Harden says.
Before becoming sexually active and after every new partner, a woman should be screened for a sexually transmitted infection.
“Young people 25 and under are especially at risk for sexually transmitted infections, and without routine screenings, they could carry an infection that could ultimately harm their fertility or cause chronic pain,” she says.

An honest, caring relationship

During your first visit and for the duration of your relationship with your gynecological care provider, it’s important to be open and honest.
“If you are unsure what something means, please let us know,” Harden says. “We want to provide you with the best care and information, and we can only do that if you let us know what you need.
“Remember, we are not going to share your information. And at the age of 16, you don’t have to be accompanied by or have permission from a parent, although it is always best when the parent and teen are honest and open with each other.”

Tidelands Health certified nurse midwife Sonya Harden practices at the Georgetown and Holmestown Road locations of Tidelands Health Women’s Center. She is accepting new patients.

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