There are many benefits to seeing a women’s health GP for a regular check-up. In addition to basic things like checking your blood pressure, a specialist women’s health GP (such as Maven Centre’s Dr Amy Sinclair-Thomson) can provide expert guidance about sexual and reproductive health, fertility and contraception, breast and cervical cancer screening, and management of menopausal symptoms – whatever is appropriate for you!
Why are women’s health check-ups important?
Obviously women have several potential health concerns that do not affect men, or affect men differently. For example:
– Cervical and breast cancer screening
– Sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening
– Vaginal discharge
– Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) or recurrent thrush
– Fertility work-up
– Initial management of menstrual issues (eg. heavy and / or painful periods)
– Management of menopausal symptoms
Getting a regular women’s health check-up can improve your quantity of life, as well as its quality! Getting advice regarding contraception, fertility, menstrual symptoms and menopausal symptoms may help you to enjoy your day-to-day life more, enabling you to focus on the more important things, like family, friends, and professional fulfilment.
What does a women’s health check-up involve?
During a women’s health check-up, your women’s health GP will spend time learning about your medical history, including: medical, surgical and psychological history; medications and allergies; family history; obstetric and gynaecological history; and social history. They will then provide personalised advice and relevant health screening, that addresses the matters that are most important to you. This advice may include the following:
Cervical screening test (CST)
Australia has one of the best cervical cancer screening systems in the world: we are on track to completely eliminate cervical cancer by 2035! Australian clinicians and scientists have long been at the forefront of cervical screening technologies, which is something we should all be proud of!
Achieving the goal of eliminating cervical cancer relies on Australian women: having regular screening from the ages of 25yo to 74yo; undertaking screening at least every five years; and following up with their GP and / or gynaecologist if they receive an abnormal result.
New screening technology was introduced in 2018. As a result, the phrase ‘Pap smear’ was replaced with ‘cervical screening test’, and the frequency with which screening is needed decreased from every two years, to every five years. (If your result comes back as abnormal, you will need screening more often than that.)
In early 2023, the government also introduced the option of self-collected cervical screening tests. This means that you can take your own cervical screening test, here at Maven Centre. We will give you the correct swab, which looks like a long cotton bud. You can go to the bathroom, and take the sample yourself – it just needs to be inserted a few centimetres into your vagina, and rotated for 20 seconds. This will diagnose whether or not you have human papilloma virus (HPV), which can predispose to cervical cancer. If so, you will be asked to attend for a traditional cervical screening test, which involves a speculum examination.
If your results come back as abnormal, your women’s health GP will be guided by national protocols, as to whether you need: repeat screening in one or two years (rather than five) and / or referral to a gynaecologist for a colposcopy. (This involves a speculum examination, and the gynaecologist looking at your cervix with a specialised microscope, which enables a magnified view of the cervix. If any abnormalities are found, a biopsy may need to be taken at the time.)
Breast cancer screening
1 in 7 Australian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and your chance of getting breast cancer increases with age. All women aged between 50 and 74 years old are encouraged to have a free breast screen (or ‘mammogram’) every two years.
Mammograms are used to find breast cancers early, before they can be seen or felt. Just like cervical cancer, the earlier cancer is found, the better your chances are of surviving it. A women’s health GP can guide you towards your local BreastScreen service, and can also provide advice on how to undertake monthly breast self-examination, which is recommended to all women.
Initial management of menstrual symptoms
As part of a women’s health check, your women’s health GP will ask you some basic questions about your menstrual cycle. If they discover that you have heavy periods, painful periods, and / or suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) or pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), they can initiate some initial management, and organise the appropriate investigations.
Depending on how you respond to the relevant medication(s), and what the investigations show, you may or may not need referral to a gynaecologist for their specialist opinion. Our team of gynaecologists at Maven Centre includes Drs Alison Bryant-Smith, Amira Dkeidek, Aekta Neel and Sneha Parghi.
If you are planning to conceive in the next 3 – 6 months, it’s a good idea to get some basic investigations done with your women’s health GP. These may include:
– ‘Full blood count’ blood test, to check your haemoglobin (which is one indicator of your iron stores)
– ‘Iron studies’ blood test, which provides more information about your iron levels
– ‘Blood group and antibodies’ blood test
– Vitamin D levels, in case you need to start taking a vitamin D supplement
– A blood test to check your measles, mumps, and rubella immunity. If you are found to be susceptible to any of these infections, your GP may recommend a booster vaccination, which needs to be given at least three months prior to becoming pregnant
– A blood test to check your immune status regarding hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and syphilis. Opportunistic screening prior, and during, pregnancy is a great way to manage these infections, on a population-wide level
– A urine test, looking for a urinary tract infection
– Genetic carrier screening blood test (e.g. for cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome, and spinal muscular atrophy). If this shows that you and your partner are more likely to have a child with any of these conditions, referrals can be made to a genetic counsellor and / or fertility specialist.
While this sounds like a lot of tests, it’s really only a few blood tests (which can be taken at the one sitting, using only one needle), and a urine test. A small price to pay, for piece of mind as you get ready to conceive.
Women’s health vaccinations
If you didn’t receive the two-dose vaccination against human papilloma virus (HPV) when you were 12-13 years old, it’s a good idea to receive catch-up vaccinations, which consist of three vaccinations over six months. While these vaccinations are slightly less effective the older you are when you receive them, it’s never too late! (If you’re vaccinated by 25 years old, you will receive the vaccinations for free.)
Sexually health screening
When you have your women’s health check, your GP may ask some screening questions, to determine if you’re at risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You may also request these tests yourself, for example if you are about to start a new sexual relationship. If it’s appropriate, your women’s health GP may suggest some tests to look for the following conditions:
– Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
– Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Those tests may involve a vaginal swab and / or blood tests.
As important to sexual health, is whether or not you are in a safe and supported relationship. If you would like any relationship counselling or support, please let your GP know.
About 85% of heterosexual couples conceive within one year of trying. If you’re struggling to conceive, please mention it to your GP. They may recommend:
– Prenatal investigations (as outlined above)
– An ovulation blood test (called a ‘day 21 progesterone’ test), which needs to be taken on approximately day 21 of your menstrual cycle. (NB: ‘day one’ is the first day of your period.)
– A check of your Fallopian tubes, to make sure at least one of them is open (or ‘patent’). There are a few different ways to check the Fallopian tubes, including tests called a ‘HyCoSy’ (which stands for Hysterosalpingo Contrast Sonography) or an ‘HSG’ (which stands for hysterosalpingogram).
– Some imaging (usually a transvaginal ultrasound) of your uterus, to make sure that it is a normal shape.
– A sperm test (or ‘semen analysis’) for your partner
The results of these tests can guide further management, for example referral to a fertility specialist such as Maven Centre’s Dr Melissa Cameron.
Contraception and family planning
There are numerous benefits to women being able to plan when they do (and don’t!) have children. Broadly speaking, there are several classes of contraception, including:
– Withdrawal method
– Barrier contraception (e.g. condoms)
– Fertility-based awareness methods (e.g. the ‘rhythm method’)
– Combined hormonal contraception, which contains both estrogen and progesterone hormones (e.g. ‘The Pill’, NuvaRing™)
– Progesterone-only contraception (e.g. the ‘mini-pill’, Slinda™, Mirena™ and Kyleena™intrauterine devices, Implanon™ or Nexplanon™, and Depo Provera injections)
– Copper intrauterine device
– Surgical options (e.g. laparoscopic tubal ligation or bilateral salpingectomy, vasectomy)
There are pros and cons of all forms of contraception. It’s important to talk about your options with your women’s health GP, and use whatever works for you.
Pregnancy and post-natal care
Maven Centre’s women’s health GP, Dr Amy Sinclair-Thomson loves providing shared antenatal care through Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital. If you would like to enquire about this, please email our reception team at firstname.lastname@example.org , to ensure that Amy has the capacity to be involved in your care. This involves regular appointments at various stages of your pregnancy.
Amy is happy to undertake your six week postpartum check, to see how you and your baby are doing. From that point onwards, you will be encouraged to keep seeing your primary GP.
By definition, menopause can only be diagnosed in retrospect, once you haven’t had a period for a year. The average age of menopause is approximately 50 years old. The ‘perimenopause’ is the stage of life leading up to your last period, as your ovarian function slows down. During perimenopause, you may notice:
– That your periods become irregular and / or heavier
– Hot flushes
– Vaginal dryness
– Emotional lability
While tests aren’t usually needed to confirm that you’re approaching menopause, sometimes an ultrasound (for an ‘antral follicle count’) and / or a blood test (for your estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone levels) may be helpful.
What should I discuss with my healthcare provider during my women’s health check-up?
During your women’s health check-up, your GP may ask you questions about your:
– Medical and surgical history
– Psychological and emotional health
– Medications and allergies
– Family history
– Vaccination history (e.g. Gardasil™)
– Cervical screening history
– Menstrual history
Of course, please mention any particular concerns you currently have: your women’s health GP, and the rest of the check-up, will be guided by your concerns.
How often do I need a women’s health check-up?
Better Health Victoria recommends that all women have a women’s health check-up every year. At your first check-up, your GP may recommend that you need one more or less often.
Women’s health clinics near me
Maven Centre’s Dr Amy Sinclair-Thomson specialises in women’s health, and would be happy to take you through a women’s health check-up, as outlined above.
In addition, there are several excellent women’s health GP clinics in Melbourne, and innumerable outstanding women’s health GPs in other general practice clinics. It is always worth seeking out a GP who has completed additional qualifications in women’s health, such as a Certificate of Women’s Health, or a Diploma of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (i.e. a DRANZCOG).
Women’s health check-up frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What should I expect during a women’s health check-up?
As outlined above, your women’s health GP may:
– Take a thorough history
– Examine you, which may include a speculum examination
– Take vaginal swabs
– Recommend a self-collected cervical screening test
– Recommend a urine test
– Give you request slips to have additional investigations performed, such as blood tests or a pelvic ultrasound
What is routine screening?
Screening is a series of questions, a medical test, or a procedure which is performed on someone who may or may not have symptoms, to assess their likelihood of having (or developing) a particular disease.
Screening provides the opportunity for both primary prevention (measures that prevent the onset of a disease, such as vaccinations), and secondary prevention (measures that lead to an early diagnosis and prompt treatment, such as cervical cancer screening).
How can I track my menstrual cycle and identify irregularities?
There are several ways that you can keep track of your menstrual cycle, such as:
– Using an old-school paper diary
– Using a note on your phone
– Using an app, such as ‘Flo’
It may help to keep track of:
– The length of your period: normal is 2 – 7 days
– The length of your menstrual cycle, from the first day of one period to the first day of the next: normal is 24 to 38 days, with up to seven days’ variation month-to-month also being normal
– Any period pain: see our blog about period pain here
– How heavy your period is: see our blog about heavy periods here
– Any associated symptoms, such as: emotional lability, breast tenderness, changes to your bowel habit
– Any bleeding between your period
You can also note additional non-cylical symptoms, such as:
– Bleeding after penetrative sex
– Pelvic pain when you’re not having your period
How to manage menopausal symptoms effectively?
There are several different symptoms of menopause, which may be managed in the following ways:
– Irregular and / or heavy periods. See your women’s health GP, who may organise blood tests and a transvaginal ultrasound. A referral to a gynaecologist may be needed.
– Hot flushes. These can be managed by: avoiding triggers; dressing in layers; acupuncture; hypnosis; an antidepressant; a medication called ‘clonidine’; and / or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is supplemental estrogen. HRT comes in many different forms and doses: please discuss with your GP which is best for you
– Genito-urinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), which includes: vaginal dryness, burning and / or irritation; discomfort or pain with penetrative sex; and urinary symptoms (such as urgency, and recurrent urinary tract infections). GSM is best treated with estrogen medications applied inside the vagina (e.g. a suppository or cream), and / or a water-based lubricant such as Yes™ products.
What screenings and tests are recommended for postmenopausal women?
Women who have gone through menopause may need to undertake the following screening tests:
– Cervical screening tests (up to 74 years old)
– Breast cancer screening (up to 74 years old)
– Bowel cancer screening (up to 74 years old)
– Bone density testing
– Blood pressure checks
– Diabetes testing
Have a chat with your GP about which tests are relevant for you.