Do I still need a gynecologist?
- Women need gynecological care at every stage of life.
- Gynecologists can be a listening ear and can help troubleshoot problems.
- Pap smears are recommended until at least age 65.
- Other screenings include pelvic exam, bone density and breast exam.
- Have a conversation with your gynecologist to develop a care plan.
The arrival of another new year is a good time for people to take stock of their health. That includes women who are in post menopause, as they may question whether they still need to see a gynecologist.
Experts say yes, they do.
Annual exams, either by a gynecologist or a primary care provider, are important to preventing and treating many health problems common in older women.
Casey Sager, MD, an OB/GYN with OSF HealthCare, says it’s a conversation she has with many of her patients on a regular basis.
“At the very least we are a listening ear," says Dr. Sager. "Someone who can hear what they have to say, help them try to troubleshoot their problems and find solutions that work for them. And it might be something as little as a supplement or it might be something like a technique or a tip of things that we could recommend to reduce hot flashes or night sweats.”
But there’s more. There are many screenings to consider including a bone density test, breast exam and a Pap smear to guard against cervical cancer.
Dr. Sager recommends getting a Pap smear at least until the age 65.
“If you have no history of high-grade dysplasia (the abnormal growth or development of a tissue or organ) or significant abnormalities in your pap smear, and you have had consecutive normal Pap smears, 65 is usually the age that we stop performing them," she says. "So, at 66 you're probably good if you have a clean history.”
Women over 65 who have no history of cancer or pre-cancer of the cervix may stop their pelvic exam if they have three negative tests over a period of 10 years.
“The need for a pelvic exam is an age-old question and something that is still debated to this day," says Dr. Sager. "I think there are certain patients who it makes extremely uncomfortable. And we can probably talk about your problems and if there's nothing significant, then it can be skipped. That said, some women benefit from having a yearly check and get reassurance that everything looks good and there's nothing to worry about.”
There are other reasons to be seen including urinary and fecal urgency or incontinence (the loss of bladder control). Another common issue is pelvic organ prolapse, a condition where the muscles holding the uterus, bladder and rectum weaken, causing them to drop down into the vagina. Dr. Sager says treatment can include physical therapy or surgery.
“As we age, gravity has its effects and every part of the body, including the reproductive organs and the vaginal tissue, is included in that," she adds. "So, it’s important to pay attention to those things that can sometimes make a big difference.”
Dr. Sager says the bottom line is to have a conversation with your gynecologist to determine the best care plan moving forward.
“I think menopause is a huge change that happens to every woman and the adjustment during that phase is something that we can help with," she says. "As an OB/GYN I love to talk through problems with women and help to find solutions that make their life easier. Even if it isn't a big problem. Any problem that we can improve is worth it.”
For more information on how to maintain your health and enjoy your retirement years, visit OSF HealthCare.