There are many myths about a woWW exam mythman’s annual well woman exam. Some of the myths stem from the way exams were conducted in the past and are no longer true because of advances in medicine and some are just purely myth. Nurse Practitioner Laurie Burke DNP, RNWHNP – BC has compiled a list of common misconceptions.
  Myth: I need to shave my legs prior to my annual exam appointment.

Fact: Your Health care provider (HCP) will not be checking your legs (except for obvious injuries/bruises) so it is not necessary to shave.

  Myth: I need a PAP every year.

Fact: The frequency of PAP smears depends on your personal history and your last results. It is still important to have an annual exam even if you do not need this lab test every year.

  Myth: I would know if there was something wrong with my breasts/vagina/cervix/uterus.

Fact: Many concerning health issues for women do not present with pain, bleeding, or other obvious signs and symptoms. The annual exam provides the opportunity to compare the current exam with those previously done to note changes. It is also an opportunity to address changes in weight, blood pressure, exercise patterns, diet as well as concerns about intercourse.

  Myth: If I’m on my period I must cancel my appointment.

Fact: If the bleeding is minimal it is fine to keep the appointment.

  Myth: If I’m not sexually active, I don’t need an exam.

Fact: ACOG screening guidelines recommend screening for women beginning at age 21.

  Myth: My teenage daughter needs a PAP because she is sexually active and needs a birth control method.

Fact: Current ACOG guidelines recommend PAPs begin at age 21 regardless of age of first sexual encounter or other risk factors such as number of partners. Sexually active women under age 21 should be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) annually as well as with partner changes.

  Myth: I’ve had a hysterectomy so I don’t need an annual exam any more.

Fact: If you have your ovaries and breasts it is a good idea to continue exams even though you may no longer need a PAP. If you have had a previous abnormal PAP or the hysterectomy was performed for cancer you may still need a PAP of the vaginal wall.

  Myth: My HCP does not need to know how many sex partners I have had.

Fact: Your HCP is not judging your behavior and will not remember how many partners you have had. Questions asked during an annual exam appointment help determine what other screening tests may need to be done to monitor your health. If you are sexually active with more than one partner, change partners frequently, or do not use condoms consistently it is important to be screened for STIs as many of these infections and viruses have no signs or symptoms. Most sexually transmitted infections are easily treated and may have devastating long term effects (such as infertility) if left untreated.

  Myth: My hormones can be checked to determine if I am out of balance.

Fact: Checking estrogen and progesterone levels in healthy women of childbearing age who have a regular menstrual cycle rarely provides any defining information. Low sex drive is generally not related to hormone levels, but more likely caused by issues such as fatigue, stress, or relationship concerns. Occasionally low testosterone levels or thyroid disease can be the underlying cause. Mood changes, irritability, PMS symptoms, and irregular menstrual cycles can often be managed by the use of hormonal birth control methods. In post-menopausal women there are hormone and non-hormone therapies that can be initiated to mitigate symptoms.

  Myth: Any vaginal discharge is concerning and needs to be checked.

Fact: Fluctuating hormone levels throughout the monthly menstrual cycle affects the consistency of vaginal discharge. Amount of discharge is individual and varies throughout the month. If the discharge is white or clear and has no odor it is normal even though you may feel it is excessive. You may have an infection that needs medical treatment if the discharge is thick, has a fishy odor, is gray/yellow/green/rust colored, or itches or burns. Not all vaginal infections are sexually transmitted.