Image of person getting their blood pressure checked at their primary care provider (PCP) appointment.

What to expect at an appointment with your primary care provider

Chances are you’ve visited a healthcare provider – whether it’s an OB/GYN, midwife, or family practitioner – for routine and preventive reproductive healthcare at some point. It’s recommended that young women first visit to talk about reproductive health when they’re between 13 and 15 years old, or when they first become sexually active, whichever is earliest.

Don’t be surprised at your next PCP appointment, here’s what to expect

But even if you’ve been to a PCP before, it may have been a while ago, or you may have never before had an appointment at a time when you were trying to conceive. So just what can you expect once you’re there? Your visit may include:

General physical exam

The general physical exam may be done by a nurse assisting your doctor, or done by the midwife. This usually consists of a height and weight check, as well as taking your blood pressure.

They may also ask you some basic questions, such as if there have been any major changes to you health since you last visited, what medications or supplements you’re currently taking, and if you have any major concerns that you’d like to discuss during the visit. They will also likely ask your the last dates of your period and about your period history.

Discussion of health history, concerns, and questions

This kind of visit also dedicates some time to speaking with your healthcare provider about your personal and family medical history. You may also discuss sexual history, options for contraception, fertility, and plans for conception.

As you discuss all of this, your provider will probably ask you a number of questions, and if you’re honest with your answers, your healthcare provider will be able to provide you with the best and most appropriate care. This is also the time for you to ask any questions you may have – no matter how personal, and even if you feel a bit embarrassed. Your healthcare provider is there to provide you with reliable medical knowledge, support, and to answer any and all questions you have.

Whether you’re actively trying to conceive or not, your provider will discuss reproductive health options that will work best for you. And if you want to try to conceive in the near future, this is the time to tell your provider about these plans so that they can share just how you can remain in good health as you TTC.

Physical exam

An accompanying nurse may or may not stay in the room with your healthcare provider during the physical exam. During this exam, you will likely be undressed and wearing a medical gown that opens in the front and a paper sheet to cover your lap, and the exam might include a pelvic exam, a bimanual exam, a breast exam, and a rectovaginal exam.

During the pelvic exam, your provider may examine the outside of your vagina, including your vulva and vaginal opening. Your provider may also examine the insider of your vagina and cervix with the help of a device called a speculum, which will hold open the vagina. They may also do an internal bimanual exam by placing gloved fingers inside your vagina as they place their other hand on your lower abdomen where your reproductive organs are located to feel them.

The provider may also do a rectovaginal exam as needed, which involves them placing one gloved finger in your vagina and another in your rectum.

The breast exam may involve your provider looking at and feeling your breasts for lumps or other abnormalities. They may also feel your neck and throat. As they do all of this, this they will aim to see and feel that you are healthy, and that they don’t observe any abnormalities.

During the physical exam you may feel some pressure or slight discomfort, but none of this should not be painful. If you do feel discomfort or pain, make sure you let your provider know.

Lab tests or screening

Based on your medical history and discussions with your provider, there is a chance they may recommend lab tests or screenings – whether routine or specialized – based on your healthcare needs. These might include a blood draw, a urine test, STD tests, or a Pap smear. These tests may happen before or after you meet with the provider.

Pap smears are done during the pelvic exam and involve your provider swiping your cervix with a small brush. (The cells taken from the swipe are then tested at a lab for cervical cancer and other abnormalities.)

No matter what type of provider you see, your healthcare provider is meant to be a partner in your care, helping you to maintain good reproductive health at every stage of your life.

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