When Should Your Daughter See a Gynecologist?
For most moms, the thought of bringing their daughter for a visit to the gynecologist has probably not crossed their minds. We’ve taught them to keep their “private parts” private. But a parent’s responsibility includes making sure they are healthy.
When a young girl complains of pelvic pain, itching, or burning, seeking the right type of medical attention is wise. Reasons behind the problems can be as simple as irritating bath bubbles, scented lotions, new toilet paper, or more serious issues such as a hormonal imbalance, or rarely, a tumor.
“Bringing them in the first time for simply a consultation, with no exam, is a good way to introduce them to the gynecologist,” said Scott Bergstedt, MD, ob/gyn with OBG-1 of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. “It’s helpful for teen girls to get accurate information on their development and a consultation is one way to do that.”
Adolescent gynecology is a relatively new alternative in girls’ health. It combines the expertise of a gynecologist with the appropriate atmosphere and sensitivity of catering to a younger patient.
Going from a playground to the gynecologist is a huge step. However, if a female of any age is experiencing problems that are breast or vaginal related, such as irritation, discharge, or pain, and it does not seem to be related to any other cause, then she should be examined by a gynecologist. It’s important that the doctor has both the training and the medical equipment to properly examine and treat a young girl, such as a small speculum and more slender instruments.
“A girl who is healthy, has no symptoms or history of gynecologic problems, has not started her periods yet, or is having routine menstrual cycles, and is not sexually active, can wait to have a pelvic exam until she’s of college age,” explained Dr. Bergstedt. “But a teenager who is sexually active should have a gynecological exam and Pap smear.” This evaluation should also include screening for sexually transmitted diseases and education about prevention of these diseases and pregnancy. Early sexual activity does put a young woman at a higher risk for cervical cancer, so it is important that a full examination is done.
Bedside manner is another important consideration. The physician must be sensitive to the situation. “If the girl would like to have her mother present during the examination, then her request should be honored. If she’d rather not, that’s okay, too. Of course, we always have a nurse present during an exam,” said Dr. Bergstedt. Sometimes girls may be intimidated or embarrassed by her mother’s presence. Recognizing her feelings is important. Both the patient and the mother should be made to feel comfortable. Reassurance and sensitivity will go a long way to making the experience as stress-free as possible.
Among the most common gynecological problems with young girls are menstrual and puberty-related issues. Some of them occur as early as age 10 or 11. “Some girls are dealing with severe cramping every month, heavy bleeding, or highly irregular periods. Periods usually begin between the ages of 12 and 14. The American College of Gynecology recommends a visit with a physician if menstruation has not started by the age of 16.
The menstrual cycle is often irregular for the first one to two years. During this time, it is not uncommon for young girls to go three or four months without menstruating. However, over time, the cycle becomes more regular and occurs every 28 days on average (although some women will have shorter or longer cycles).
Another common complaint seen in young girls is irritation, which usually occurs between the ages of 3 –10. Here are a few ways to prevent irritation:
• Limit lotions, bubbles, etc. The fragrances and ingredients in these products can cause burning, itching, and inflammation. Sometimes laundry detergents, fragrant soaps, and fabric softeners are also to blame. Try unscented soaps, and gentle detergents to help eliminate the problem.
• Keep the area dry and allow air exposure. After a bath, teach your daughter to dry thoroughly and wait a few minutes before putting on clothes.
• Bath vs. shower. A bath can be more effective than a shower at cleaning private parts. Use a mild soap, and definitely no scrubbing. Even just soaking in warm water is enough.
There are no set rules or guidelines as to what age a young woman should have her first gynecological exam. However, most doctors agree that once a young woman becomes sexually active or reaches the age of 18, it is important she receive a checkup at least once a year.