A well-woman exam is an essential annual visit. The visit usually begins around age 13-15 and involves discussion of issues like a girl’s menstrual cycle, abnormal pelvic symptoms, and her sexuality. These early visits do not include a pelvic exam.

At age 21, a well-woman exam starts to include a pelvic exam and a clinical breast exam. You can use these visits to ask questions about unusual symptoms, like abnormal vaginal discharge, heavy periods, or pelvic pain. It is also the time to start Pap smears — simple screenings that check for abnormal cells on your cervix. Pap smears are an important preventive step against cervical cancer.

You should also ask your provider about any issues relevant to your sexual health, including contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have concerning symptoms, your provider can schedule the proper tests and screenings.

Women approaching menopause may use well woman-exams to discuss problems that occur with hormonal changes, like hot flashes and weight gain. Your well-woman visits are important even after menopause to address issues like osteoporosis and heart disease.