What Happens at an Ob-Gyn Checkup and Why? One Doctor Explains.
Routine visits are a chance to discuss more than just your sexual health.
These days, seeing your ob-gyn involves much more than a Pap test, pelvic exam, or breast exam. In fact, those exams may not even be needed at each checkup. The visit is really about taking a look at your overall physical health and mental well-being.
When you see your ob-gyn, it’s a chance to discuss everyday health concerns, from anxiety and stress to weight loss and family planning. Of course, we ob-gyns have the most training on pelvic organs and the reproductive system. But everything in your body works together. We want to know what’s going on in your life and how your whole body is feeling. Only then can we give you the best health care possible.
Here’s what may happen at your ob-gyn visit.
First, we may review your personal and family history for conditions or symptoms that could affect your health. I ask about your past health care and any diseases and conditions that run in your family. These questions help us decide what type of health care may be needed for you at the visit.
We also may talk about how your lifestyle and environment may affect your physical health and safety. We might discuss
eating and exercise habits
alcohol and drug use (including smoking or vaping)
whether you have safe and secure housing
if you feel safe at home, or if there is any violence in your home
We may review your mental health and well-being. My hope is to understand any sources of stress in your life, and your ability to manage and cope with stress. We might talk about
what you do for work and if your job is causing you stress
how you balance responsibilities at home and at work
whether you have children, and if so, if you have help caring for them
I ask every patient questions to check for depression and anxiety. Depending on your answers, I may recommend a mental health care professional who can offer you additional help.
We address any specific health concerns or questions you have. If you have any bothersome symptoms—say, you’re having unusual vaginal discharge, it hurts when you urinate, or your period is troubling you—we talk about that right away. Depending on your symptoms and health history, we may recommend tests or a physical exam. It may be helpful to do a urine sample or a blood test in some cases.
We’ll talk about treatment options depending on what we find. Many common problems have quick, effective treatments. Other problems may need more tests or follow-up.
We talk about pregnancy planning or birth control. Together we talk about your goals for having children or preventing pregnancy. If you want to get pregnant in the future, we may talk about your timeline and biology—it helps to understand how fertility changes with age. If you’re ready to start trying to get pregnant, we’ll discuss how prepregnancy care can make your pregnancy as safe and healthy as possible.
If you don’t want to get pregnant right now, we discuss whether you want to start or change a birth control method. If you are already using birth control, we want to make sure you are happy with the method you are using. There are many options to choose from.
We talk about menopause and healthy aging. As women age, we talk about the time leading up to menopause (perimenopause), menopause itself, and the years after. We discuss what symptoms you may have and how to cope with them. We can suggest medication or other options that may help with symptoms.
We review health conditions that you may experience as you age, from sexual health concerns like incontinence and painful sex, to bone loss and heart disease. We’ll talk about how to prevent or manage these conditions. We also talk about your life goals and how to stay healthy enough to achieve them.
We may recommend a physical exam, but not always. Depending on your age, health history, and any current symptoms, we may recommend a physical exam. A physical exam may include a pelvic exam, cervical cancer screening, or a breast exam:
In a pelvic exam, your ob-gyn may look at your vulva, vagina, and cervix to check for any signs of problems. And your ob-gyn may check your internal organs with a gloved hand. Ob-gyns do this by putting two gloved fingers into your vagina, pushing their fingers up toward your cervix, and pressing on your abdomen from the outside. This helps your ob-gyn feel your uterus and ovaries.
With cervical cancer screening, cells are gently scraped from the cervix and tested. This may happen during a pelvic exam if you are due for screening.
In a clinical breast exam, your doctor may feel and look for any concerning changes in your breasts and underarms.
Talk with your ob-gyn about what screening and exams may be recommended for you.
With some of my patients, I’ll take a brief look at their ears, nose, and throat. I also may look at their skin, listen to their heartbeat, feel their thyroid gland, and use a device to check lung function while they breathe. I typically only do these tests if a patient has concerns or isn’t seeing a primary care doctor.
We can give you the vaccinations you need. We’ll discuss which vaccinations are recommended for you. Some vaccines are recommended if you’re pregnant, and others are suggested for everyone. If you have questions about vaccines, we’ll give you accurate information.
We keep the conversation open, honest, and respectful. As ob-gyns, our intention is always to be open and honest with you. We do our best to listen, share our recommendations, and discuss the risks and benefits of our advice.
Our hope is that you are just as open and honest with us, so that we can give you the best care possible during our time together. If you have any questions about anything related to your health, please feel comfortable asking. We’re here to help you. That’s what our visits are for.
Published: December 2021
Last reviewed: August 2023
Copyright 2023 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.