Annual visits to this specialist are essential to maintaining good health, fertility, longevity, a great sex life and even mental wellbeing.
Written by Dawn Anderson | Illustration by Branden Barker
Women are the primary healthcare decision makers for their entire families, but often neglect their own health. With the hectic fall and holiday seasons around the corner, don’t make the mistake of postponing your own medical appointments while scheduling everyone else’s. Now is the time to book necessary checkups and appointments for 2024 and your OB-GYN appointment check-up should be at the top of your priority list. Yet, according to recent research, only 49% of women stated they visited or consulted with an obstetrician/gynecologist at least once a year. Annual visits to your OB-GYN– the one regular doctor you see who specializes in female care– are essential to maintaining good health, longevity and even mental wellbeing.
Although the general guidance of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently reduced the frequency of Pap smears depending on your age, Dr. Jessica Kline, an OB/GYN with UofL Physicians at UofL Health, emphasizes the continued importance of annual visits, including pelvic exams, saying, “A Pap smear is just one part of an annual exam. A well-woman visit with your OB-GYN is an opportunity to discuss your overall gynecologic, reproductive, and sexual health, complete other recommended screenings, discuss concerning symptoms, and decide together if a pelvic exam would be helpful for you.”
Here, information for each age and stage that will help you make the most of your next visit and take control of your healthcare choices and decisions.
According to Dr. Kline, the top health concerns for young women in their twenties and thirties tend to be menstrual health and reproductive healthcare, including planning and preventing pregnancy and sexual health dynamics and relationships: “Risk factors in this age range are individualized to each patient and their family history relative to breast, ovarian, colon, and uterine cancers.” She recommends gonorrhea and chlamydia screenings for sexually active women under 25 due to “potentially devastating consequences for future fertility.”
Dr. Kline advises young women to begin cervical cancer screenings at age 21 and to get the HPV vaccine if they haven’t already. “Human papillomavirus is a big risk factor for developing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine (FDA-approved through age 45) will change the landscape going forward in our country with the reduction in cervical cancer. With women’s reproductive rights being systematically stripped away, especially in Kentucky, the Opill is another huge breakthrough in women’s health.” (See sidebar for more information on Opill, the first US FDA-approved non-prescription birth control pill.)
Patients of reproductive age should track their periods to know what is normal for them as an individual. “A deviation could indicate a problem, and having a calendar to reference is helpful,” says Dr. Kline. She also recommends a folic acid supplement or prenatal vitamin for women interested in a potential pregnancy.
Dr. Kline says women in their forties and fifties are concerned with perimenopause and expectations for the menopausal transition. “Experiences with menopause are different for every woman and not talked about enough, so general knowledge is lacking. The average age for menopause is 51 in the US.” Menopause is clinically defined as a cessation of menstruation greater than one year.
Veozah is an exciting new treatment option for vasomotor symptoms (VMS) such as hot flashes and night sweats, forms of temperature dysfunction occurring with hormonal changes. Dr. Kline says Veoza can improve sleep and overall quality of life. She advocates for “managing symptoms versus numbers” and against permanent hormone therapy methods that don’t necessarily fit the patient’s needs.
“Screening for breast cancer through routine mammograms should begin at age 40 and colon cancer screening at age 45, or earlier if recommended based on family history,” she adds.
Women over 60 generally begin to experience the absence of estrogen. Genito-urinary syndrome of menopause (GUSM) is relatively new terminology for a broad spectrum of low estrogen-related symptoms, such as vulval irritation, vaginal dryness, and urinary urgency incontinence. Other common concerns for this age group are pelvic organ prolapse and vaginal bleeding occurring more than a year post-menopause.
For this age group, Dr. Kline suggests metabolic screens and monitoring for symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Breast cancer screenings should continue, as well as discussions around sexual health.
If you want to learn more:
For more information, visit uoflhealth.org/services/womens-health.
Follow @UofLHealth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Or you can contact Dr. Kline: UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health: UofL Health – Chestnut Street Outpatient Center, 401 East Chestnut St. Suites 410 & 470, Louisville, KY 40202 | 502-588-4400
First OTC Birth Control:
The FDA’s July 13 approval of Perrigo’s Opill marked the first nonprescription daily oral contraceptive as an over-the-counter option for millions of Americans. Opill is a progestin-only “mini-pill” expected to be available in stores in early 2024. Dr. Jessica Kline, an OB-GYN with UofL Health says, “I’m looking forward to hearing patients’ experiences with this medication! Opill’s main mechanism of contraception is the thickening of cervical mucus. It may or may not regulate periods and could potentially cause irregular spotting.” For dosing, as with any daily oral contraceptive, Dr. Kline strongly encourages using a smartphone alarm set at the same time each day to increase effectiveness. – Dawn Anderson