Top Questions About Gynecologists
What is a gynecologist?
A gynecologist is a physician with special training in women’s reproductive health. An OB-GYN is both a gynecologist and an obstetrician. Obstetricians take care of pregnant women and deliver babies.
What women’s health services does a gynecologist provide?
An in-person appointment with a gyno or OB-GYN begins with the provider taking a comprehensive health history, and usually includes a pelvic exam, possibly with a pap smear or HPV test to screen for cervical cancer. A gynecologist can prescribe birth control or insert an IUD, and test for sexually transmitted infections. You can discuss any sexual or reproductive symptoms — such as pelvic pain, or period problems — with a gynecologist. A gynecologist may perform manual breast exams, or offer non-reproductive primary care like flu shots and counseling about weight loss or smoking cessation. If needed, some gynecologists perform surgical procedures that address reproductive issues.
How often do I need to go to the gynecologist?
You may not need an in-person gyno appointment every year. Yearly pelvic exams are no longer recommended for women older than 18 who don’t have worrisome symptoms, aren’t pregnant, and aren’t known to be at increased risk of gynecologic cancer (according to the US Preventive Services Task Force). Seeing an OB-GYN regularly can still be an important part of taking care of yourself, but know that you can receive many types of sexual and reproductive healthcare without an in-person appointment. Many of the healthcare services that a gynecologist offers, including birth control, STI testing, and cervical cancer screening, can be accessed through an online medical provider like those at Nurx. Nurx providers begin each online assessment by taking a comprehensive medical history, and treat each patient with at least as much care and attention as you would receive from an in-person appointment.
How do I find a gynecologist near me?
You can look for a gynecologist near you by searching for a Planned Parenthood clinic in or close to your zip code. If you need birth control, STI testing, cervical cancer screening, or emergency contraception you can access those services from Nurx, if Nurx is available where you live.
What’s the difference between an HPV test and a pap smear?
Both tests aim to protect you from cervical cancer by catching pre-cancerous cells before they turn cancerous. An HPV test screens for high-risk strains of HPV that are responsible for most cervical cancer. An HPV test only requires collecting a swab sample from inside the vagina, close to but not in the cervix. You can perform an HPV test at home in just minutes, and mail it to a lab. If high-risk HPV is present, you’ll need to follow up with your doctor for a pap smear or a colposcopy to look for abnormal changes in your cervical cells. If your results are negative for high-risk HPV you are at very low risk of cervical cancer and mostly likely don’t need additional screening (either a pap smear or HPV test) for three years, though testing recommendations vary by age and medical history.
A pap test (also called a pap smear) requires that you go to your healthcare provider’s office and receive a speculum exam. Your healthcare provider will collect cells from inside of your cervix, which are then observed under a microscope by a cytologist or pathologist. Abnormal cervical cells indicate a potential for cervical cancer and require close follow-up.