Before menopause, as young women of childbearing age, we’re used to seeing our gynecologist regularly, and many of us look forward to the day when those visits are no longer a part of our lives. But is that ever really possible? The truth is, even if we’re post-menopausal, it’s usually not a good idea to skip those checkups altogether.
After all, “lady parts” can be complex and still need some attention and care even when we can no longer have children.
Do You Need a Pelvic Exam?
The information on regular pelvic exams can be difficult to decipher, but the American College of Physicians says that if you are healthy, you don’t need annual pelvic exams regardless of your age. Every three years should suffice. On the other hand, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends that all women have yearly pelvic exams.
So, what’s a woman to do? The best thing to do is talk to your OB-GYN to discuss your situation so that you can meet your health needs.
And before we get off of this subject, always schedule pelvic exams yearly if you have ever experienced, or feel like you’re currently experiencing any problems related to your vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, or ovaries. Remember that every woman’s situation is different, so always listen to your body.
Do You Need a Pap Smear?
Unlike pelvic exams, current guidelines recommend that you have a Pap smear regularly even if you’re past the age of menopause. In fact, until the age of 65, you should have Pap smears every three years, or a Pap smear and HPV test every five years. If you’re past 65 years of age, you can skip these tests, but there are two exceptions.
First, if your recent tests have not been normal, you should continue to get them. And second, if you’ve had a hysterectomy where the cervix was removed, you can skip getting a Pap smear.
Do You Still Need a Gynecologist After Menopause?
So, if you’ve been receiving negative Pap smears, aren’t having any problems with your lady parts, had a hysterectomy that removed your cervix, and you’re 65 or older, do you even need a gynecologist? The answer is, that it all depends. Gynecologists help women of all ages stay healthy, so visiting your OB-GYN at least every few years goes way beyond getting a Pap smear or pelvic exam.
That being said, there are certain conditions that require a visit to the gynecologist’s office, including the following:
- Itching or irritation of the vagina and vulva. When estrogen levels fall, some women experience burning, itching, or dryness in this area of the body. Pain during intercourse is one of the symptoms. The standard treatment for this condition is low-dose estrogen for the vagina, which includes pills, rings, or certain creams.
- Pelvic organ prolapse. If the muscles and support organs that hold the uterus, bladder, and rectum in place start to weaken, they can actually drop down into the vagina, which is both uncomfortable and inconvenient. The standard treatment for this condition includes surgery and physical therapy.
- Incontinence or urinary and fecal urgency. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) calls this condition GSM, which stands for genitourinary syndrome of menopause, and it can cause irritation as well. Talk to your gynecologist if you have these symptoms because there are numerous treatments available. This is especially important if you’re a breast cancer survivor.
What About Mammograms?
Okay, this topic isn’t related to gynecology per se, but as long as we’re talking about women’s health, let’s talk about mammograms. Regular cancer screenings should continue every year for all women, but after the age of 55, you can switch to every other year for your mammograms. This should continue as long as you feel like you have at least ten more years on the earth.
That may sound strange, but the truth is, the risks of getting breast cancer increase as we get older, so we should continue our mammograms essentially for the rest of our lives. And don’t forget about your monthly breast self-exams, which are just as important, if not more.
What is the Bottom Line?
While women should begin having yearly gynecological exams by the age of 21, the answer regarding when to stop scheduling those exams is sometimes less obvious. The bottom line is, that even after you turn 65 years old and have had at least three negative Pap smears in a row, you should still have a gynecologist’s phone number on your smartphone.
Problems such as vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse become more common as we age, but a gynecologist can help you take care of these medical problems and more. In short, it’s good to have a gynecologist in mind for when various problems arise so you’re not left out in the cold if you feel like something may be wrong.