For young women and their mothers, knowing when to begin scheduling visits to their gynecologist can be a tricky decision. While the appropriate time often depends on a variety of factors, Dr. Olga Tusheva, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Highland Medical, P.C., OBS-GYN of Rockland, explained when to think about this transition to womanhood.
Generally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology recommends young women have their first visit to the gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15. However, they may want to visit a gynecologist earlier if they've already begun menstruating and have questions about their period, cramping or other related issues, advised Tusheva.
Some girls may be nervous about their first exam because they don’t know what to expect. Parents can tell their daughters the visit isn’t just a physical exam, but also an opportunity to discuss important issues such as sex and sexuality. “I ask parents to step outside before I start talking with a patient,” said Tusheva. “That way she can ask questions she might not be comfortable asking in the presence of her parents.”
The doctor will often begin by asking about the patient’s medical history, including how long she has been menstruating. They will then perform a general physical exam, including measuring weight, height and blood pressure, as well as an external genital exam. For girls who have not been sexually active, the first exam will not include an internal pelvic exam unless they are having problems, such as abnormal bleeding or pain.
Tusheva answered several common questions teen girls often have prior to their first gynecologist visit:
When do girls usually start menstruating?
Many girls start menstruating between the ages of 9 to 11, but some don’t start until several years after that. If a teen hasn’t gotten her period by the age of 15, she should be examined by a gynecologist.
Is my period normal?
In general, most girls have a period that lasts three to seven days. It’s a continuum—everyone is different, and it’s important to discuss specific concerns with a gynecologist instead of going by a friend’s experience.
Are my cramps normal?
It’s common to have some degree of discomfort during your period. If the pain is bothersome, it’s fine to take over-the-counter pain medications such as Motrin, Aleve or Tylenol. If cramps are causing you to miss school or activities, if you’re saturating a tampon in less than one hour or if you feel dizzy, lightheaded or pale (signs of anemia due to significant blood loss), see your gynecologist.
“It’s important for a young woman to feel comfortable asking her gynecologist any questions she may have, from how to use a tampon to whether she could be at risk of an STD,” said Tusheva. “There’s no question the gynecologist or nurse hasn’t heard before, and it won’t be shared with anyone else.”
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