A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in female reproductive health. They diagnose and treat issues related to the female reproductive tract. This includes the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries and breasts.
Anyone with female organs may see a gynecologist. 80% of those who see one are between 15 to 45 years old.
What Does a Gynecologist Do?
Gynecologists give reproductive and sexual health services that include pelvic exams, Pap tests, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for vaginal infections.
They diagnose and treat reproductive system disorders such as endometriosis, infertility, ovarian cysts, and pelvic pain. They may also care for people with ovarian, cervical, and other reproductive cancers.
Some gynecologists also practice as obstetricians, who give care during pregnancy and birth. If a gynecologist has expertise in obstetrics, they’re called an OB-GYN.
Education and Training
Gynecologists are physicians who have completed specialized training in the female reproductive system. Like any medical doctor, a gynecologist must complete medical school followed by a residency. In the United States, residency programs and the certification process cover obstetrics and gynecology in combination.
The process involves:
- Four years’ worth of medical school
- Four years of residency
- Successful completion of the Qualifying Exam, a written test
- Documented experience in patient care
- Successful completion of the Certifying Exam, an oral test
After becoming board-certified, a gynecologist may have advanced subspecialty training. Areas of training include:
- Breast care
- Family planning
- Minimally invasive surgery
- Pediatric and adolescent gynecology
- Pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery
Reasons to See a Gynecologist
You may want to see a gynecologist if:
You’re Due for a Checkup
It’s important to have regular visits with your gynecologist to maintain your reproductive health. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these visits should start between the ages of 13 and 15.
Depending on your health history and how old you are, your gynecologist may use this visit to screen for problems like cervical or breast cancer. The well visit is also your chance to ask the gynecologist about reproductive health concerns like birth control.
You Have Discomfort in Your Pelvic Region
Pain in the lower belly, also known as the pelvic region, may be a sign of a problem with the reproductive organs. Common causes of pelvic pain include menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and ectopic pregnancy.
You Have Concerns about Your Period or Getting Pregnant
You can make an appointment with a gynecologist if you have changes in your monthly period, including unusual pain or bleeding. If you are in your 40s or 50s, your gynecologist can help you to figure out if you might be going through menopause.
Gynecologists can also help you with questions about pregnancy, including how to avoid getting pregnant and what to do if you think you might be pregnant.
You Have a Discharge Your Concerned About
If you’re having an unusual discharge or odor, a gynecologist can diagnose the cause and offer treatment.
What to Expect at the Gynecologist
Your gynecologists will exam your reproductive system, both internally and externally. They’ll examine your breasts and check for any lumps or cysts.
They’ll then examine your vulva, which is located outside of the vagina.
The next step is usually an internal pelvic exam. The doctor will use a special instrument called a speculum to see inside the vagina and look at the cervix.
To see inside the body, a gynecologist uses a tool known as a speculum, which the doctor inserts into the vagina. It helps to widen the vagina and help the doctor to see the cervix, located between the vagina and the uterus.
During the pelvic exam, the gynecologist may do a procedure known called a Pap smear. It lets the doctor collect a sample of cells from the cervix to check for infection.
Your doctor may also press on your abdomen and pelvis, and may insert a gloved finger into your rectum to check for any problems.
If your gynecologist diagnoses you with a medical condition, they may give you treatment or refer you to a specialist. Depending on the problem, your treatments may involve medication, surgery, or a wait-and-see approach.