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What Is a Well-Woman Exam?

A well-woman exam—also known as a women’s wellness exam—is a routine checkup with a women’s health provider. It’s an opportunity to check your overall health and discuss your health risks, especially risks related to being a woman.

Your provider gives you personalized guidance on how to improve your wellness. They also perform a pelvic exam, breast exam, and Pap smear and may recommend vaccinations or preventive screenings.

Is a Well-Woman Exam the Same as an Annual Physical?

Well-woman exams and annual physicals are similar, but they aren’t the same. Your annual physical is usually with a primary care provider. This visit includes a checkup of your overall health and counseling on health improvements, just like a well-woman exam. But many primary care providers don’t include pelvic exams, breast exams, or Pap smears in annual physicals.

What to Expect at a Women’s Wellness Exam

During your appointment, a nurse or a medical assistant will take your vital signs:

  • Blood pressure

  • Breathing (respiration) rate

  • Pulse

  • Temperature

They’ll also record your height and weight and ask if you have any specific concerns you’d like to discuss with your provider. When your provider comes into the room, they’ll review your health chart and ask questions related to your well-being, health risks, and age:

  • Do you smoke or drink alcohol? How often?

  • Do you take birth control? Would you like to discuss birth control options?

  • Have you experienced any menopausal symptoms? Do these symptoms bother you?

  • What are your diet and exercise habits?

  • When was your last menstrual period? Do you have regular menstrual cycles?

  • When was your last Pap smear, colonoscopy, or mammogram?

  • Would you like any screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Based on your answers, your provider will discuss your health risks and their recommendations with you. They may order blood work, recommend preventive screenings, or advise getting certain vaccines, based on your individual needs.

Well-Woman Exam vs. Pap Smear

A Pap smear, the test that screens for signs of cervical cancer, may be part of your well-woman exam. But it’s not the only reason to get a well-woman exam. The well-woman visit is also an opportunity to check and discuss your overall health and risks.

Most women need Pap smears every 3-5 years, depending on their health risks. Your provider will let you know whether you need a Pap smear during your well-woman visit.

What Happens During a Pelvic and Breast Exam?

Your provider will also offer a breast and pelvic exam during your well-woman visit. Your provider will explain the benefits of both exams and talk you through what happens during each.

Breast Exam

You’ll lie flat on your back while your provider feels your breast tissue and lymph nodes with the pads of their fingers. They’ll check for symptoms that warrant a closer look:

  • Hard lumps

  • Skin changes

  • Nipple discharge and/or nipple retraction 

They’ll also explain how to perform a self-exam at home to notice any signs of changes in your breasts.

Pelvic Exam

You’ll lie on an exam table and place your feet in footrests at the end of the table. Your provider will wear gloves and use their finger to feel the inside of your vagina up to your cervix. They’ll press gently on your abdomen with the other hand so that they can feel your internal reproductive organs, including your ovaries and uterus. If you have a Pap smear, your provider will insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, then take a small cell sample from your cervix.

Be honest with your provider if you’ve had uncomfortable or frustrating experiences at past medical visits. Your provider may be able to offer other approaches that make the experience more comfortable for you, such as helping you with breathing exercises or showing you how to insert the speculum yourself.

How to Prepare for a Women’s Health Exam

Women's Wellness Exam Checklist

Take some time to consider what questions you have for your provider and what you hope to get out of the visit. Noting your health goals and questions ahead of time sets you up for a more successful appointment.

Your provider’s office may ask you to fill out your family and personal health history online before your appointment. Or you may fill it out at your appointment. On the day of your visit, make sure you bring your photo identification and insurance card.

Compiling your family health history is one of the most important ways to prepare for your women’s health exam. Knowing your family history helps your provider give you a more accurate estimate of your risk of certain diseases. You’ll want to find out the following:

  • If you have relatives who have had chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes

  • If you have relatives who have had cancer

  • The age when those relatives received the diagnosis

It’s also important to share your personal health history with your provider:

  • Any surgeries or major injuries

  • Past and current diagnoses

  • Medications you take regularly, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements

  • Date of your last blood tests and the results

Who Needs a Well-Woman Exam?

All women should get a well-woman exam every year starting at age 21. It’s important to get regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, even if you’re not sexually active. Women who have had hysterectomies still need well-woman exams to discuss health risks and preventive screenings.

Well Women’s Exam Cost

Most insurance plans cover one routine checkup per year. Your well-woman exam counts as this routine checkup. However, if you’ve already had an annual physical with a primary care provider, you may need to pay a copay for a well-woman exam. Our team can help you understand your insurance coverage and costs before your appointment.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Women's health provider, Dr. Camille Moreno, walks down the hall with another U of U Health provider discussing a patient chart.

Our Women’s Health team offers routine checkups and specialized treatments to keep you healthy. Our gynecologists, family medicine providers, primary care providers, and OB/GYNs provide evidence-based, effective care. 

You have access to experts who specialize in a variety of specific women’s health needs:

Thanks to our wide-ranging network of specialists, you receive quick referrals when needed. Our 5 for Life program also allows women to get multiple screenings done at one time and one location, such as cervical screenings and mammograms/breast exams.

Schedule an Appointment

You don’t need a referral for a well-woman exam. Call 801-213-2995 to schedule an appointment.

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