Many think visits to the gynaecologist are necessary only if you’re planning to get pregnant, are pregnant or wanting to do the annual Pap smear. But that’s not all a gynaecologist does! By definition, a gynaecologist is a certified doctor who specialises in female reproductive health. Like any doctor, we go through medical school followed by a residency. For gynaecologists, our residency program covers obstetrics and gynaecology.
Apart from caring for pregnant women, yes, gynaecologists diagnose and treat issues related to the female reproductive tract, including the uterus, breasts, fallopian tubes and ovaries. We’re trained to care for reproductive system disorders such as ovarian cysts, reproductive cancers, pelvic pain and more. Simply speaking, anyone with female organs can see a gynaecologist.
When should I visit a gynaecologist?
It’s important to have regular if not yearly visits with your gynaecologist even if you feel like nothing is wrong. This is to maintain your reproductive health and detect any issues early. As for what age a female should start visiting a gynaecologist, 13-15 years old is a good age as that’s when most girls begin menstruation. For more details on what goes into the first gynaecologist visit in Singapore for a teenager, check out this article I wrote.
Depending on your medical history and age, your gynaecologist may usually screen for women’s health problems such as cervical or breast cancer. If you have questions on birth control, this is also a good time to find out more.
Other reasons to see a gynaecologist:
Discomfort in the pelvic region
Pain in the pelvic region (the area below your belly button and around your hips) may indicate a problem with the reproductive organs. It is usually associated with menstrual cramps, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy and ovarian cysts. Because pelvic pain can be the result of co-existing problems and therefore difficult to diagnose, a gynaecologist can help find out the root of the issue and ease the pain.
Concerns about your period or pregnancy
If you experience sudden changes in your period including unusual pain or bleeding, it’s beneficial to make an appointment with a gynaecologist. Abnormal menstruation can be caused by many factors, including stress or more serious ones like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Regardless, it’s best to consult a gynaecologist to find out the root of the issue and get it treated. It would help to keep an accurate record of your past menstrual cycles, including when your period begins and ends, the amount of flow, the presence of large blood clots if any and bleeding between periods.
If you’re in your 40s and 50s and experiencing abnormal menstruation due to menopause, your gynaecologist will help you navigate through the process. Should you have questions regarding pregnancy including birth control methods or suspect that you are pregnant, a gynaecologist is the person who can help you with your concerns.
Concerns about unusual discharge
Unusual discharge, odour or itching below are common symptoms of yeast infections. A gynaecologist can give the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
What can I expect during my visit to the gynaecologist?
Your gynaecologist will carry out internal and external tests to examine your reproductive system. This includes examining your vulva, the area located outside of the vagina. The next step is an internal pelvic exam, where a special instrument called a speculum is inserted inside the vagina to look at the cervix. During the pelvic exam, the gynaecologist may conduct a Pap smear to collect a sample of cells from the cervix. Routine Pap smear screenings are recommended for women aged 21-65 to detect cervical cancer. This includes women who have never had sexual intercourse.
Other physical tests include pressing on your abdomen and pelvis and inserting a gloved finger into your rectum to check for problems. In the event your gynaecologist diagnoses you with a medical condition, they may offer treatment which involves medication, surgery or a wait-and-see approach. In some cases, they may refer you to a specialist if the cause of your condition is outside of their specialty.
- Morgan, M. A., Cragan, J. D., Goldenberg, R. L., Rasmussen, S. A., & Schulkin, J. (2010). Obstetrician-gynaecologist knowledge of and access to information about the risks of medication use during pregnancy. The journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine : the official journal of the European Association of Perinatal Medicine, the Federation of Asia and Oceania Perinatal Societies, the International Society of Perinatal Obstetricians, 23(10), 1143–1150. https://doi.org/10.3109/14767051003653252
- Shaw, D., & Faúndes, A. (2006). What is the relevance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights to the practising obstetrician/gynaecologist?. Best practice & research. Clinical obstetrics & gynaecology, 20(3), 299–309. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2006.01.013
This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Tan Poh Kok (PK Tan), a Senior Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at PK Women’s Specialist Clinic.