Women’s Health Clinics – When to Visit and What to Expect
13 November 2019 by - Dr Demetri C Panayi
Gynaecologists are specialist doctors who deal with women’s health issues, focusing on the female reproductive system. There are many reasons as to why someone might need to visit a gynaecologist, including pregnancy, fertility and childbirth problems, menstrual issues, hormone disorders, abnormal smears, and more.
Some women may prefer to visit a clinic specialising in women’s health, rather than a GP that deals with general health concerns. In many cases, GPs will refer patients onto a gynaecologist, particularly if issues are more complex.
Here, we discuss the several circumstances in which a patient might need to go to a women’s clinic, and what they can expect when they do.
What is a gynaecologist?
A gynaecologist is a doctor who treats people who have female reproductive organs, and this includes those who may not identify as a woman. Gynaecological patients include those who have a chronic disorder, such as endometriosis, which is not life-threatening but often affects quality of life, as well as those who come in with a gynaecological issue.
Gynaecologists frequently have to carry out procedures, such as treatment for abnormal bleeding, minimally-invasive keyhole surgery and surgical intervention after miscarriage.
Obstetricians are a type of gynaecologist, dealing specifically with pregnancy and childbirth. Most of the time, the women are healthy, though some will have medical problems that can cause complications to their pregnancy and thus need to be cared for by an obstetrician.
When to visit a gynaecologist
For patients with chronic issues, visiting a gynaecologist regularly might be recommended. Others should visit if they have specific symptoms, such as abdominal, pelvic or vaginal pain, abnormal bleeding, irregular discharge, or menopause symptoms.
These are the common conditions gynaecologists treat people for:
- Pregnancy problems, menstruation, fertility and menopausal problems
- Heavy periods (menorrhagia)
- Abnormal smear results (dyskaryosis)
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
- Family planning, which can include contraceptive choices, sterilisation and termination of pregnancy
- Pelvic prolapse
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Bladder problems and incontinence
- Ovarian cysts, fibroids and other non-cancerous conditions of the reproductive system
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Emergency gynaecological care
There are many surgical procedures that are also carried out by gynaecologists, including:
- Laparoscopy, known as keyhole surgery. This is a minimally-invasive procedure, carried out for both diagnostic and surgical reasons
- Minor surgery, for example, sterilisation
- Major surgery, such as removing fibroids within the uterus
- Post-operative care, such as fixing complications
- Other surgical treatments, such as treating prolapse after giving birth
What to expect when visiting the clinic
A patient’s experience when visiting a women’s health clinic will depend upon their individual circumstances and reasons for attending. If it is a general check-up or first-time visit, you can expect to have a chat with the consultant, similar to talking to your GP. This gives the consultant a chance to understand your background and any concerns you have.
It is important to be honest with the consultant, as the information provided will help them understand the situation more clearly, enabling them to give you an accurate diagnosis and offer suitable treatment options, if necessary.
In many cases, a patient will have been referred to the gynaecologist from their GP, after the GP has identified symptoms that require specialist attention. If being referred, your GP may have already asked you to take a blood test or have an ultrasound scan before going to the gynaecological clinic. When attending the clinic, the consultant will talk to you and discuss any results from tests (or ask you to take tests while there).
The gynaecologist will ask you about your symptoms, your general health, any medication you are taking and any previous surgeries you have had. Be aware that the consultant may also ask you some sensitive questions regarding your personal and sexual behaviour, such as whether you’ve ever had an STI, if you are using contraception and what your menstrual cycle is like.
All of this information will be confidential (except being on your medical record) and will assist the gynaecologist in getting the most accurate picture of your reproductive health.
Examinations and treatment
If an examination is required, the consultant may feel around your tummy area, and might also need to carry out an internal examination, which could involve using a speculum to open the vagina (the same instrument used in a routine cervical screening).
Once results are received, treatment may be necessary. The type of treatment offered will depend on your symptoms, health background, age and whether you want to have children. The consultant will explain all treatment options to you, including what happens, the risks and the aftercare advice.
If attending the clinic for a colposcopy examination following an abnormal result from a cervical screening, then you may experience some discomfort, but it should not be painful.
If you have been referred to the clinic due to heavy or irregular bleeding, a biopsy may be carried out. This is where a small piece of tissue is removed from the womb lining, cervix, vagina or vulva (this varies depending on your symptoms) and sent off to a lab to be tested.
For those attending to discuss female sterilisation, it is recommended to bring your partner with you.
If being referred due to pelvic prolapse, the consultant may suggest using a pessary as a treatment option, which can be inserted in the clinic. This device is used to support the prolapsed pelvic organs.
Can I bring someone with me?
If you’d like a friend or family member to attend the clinic with you, you can bring them along. They can wait outside or come in the room if you prefer. You may also request a chaperone.
Visiting the women’s health clinic is something that, at some point, the majority of women will have to experience. Gynaecologists see people from all walks of life and with a myriad of different problems, so there is really nothing to be embarrassed about. Any proficient consultant will understand your concerns and do their best to make you feel as comfortable as possible during your visit.