a woman talking to her doctor and interpreting the information she's given

A Guide to Your Office Visit: Part 1

Let’s face it: going to the doctor can be intimidating. If you’re in pain, worried, and not feeling well, it can be even more difficult. The medical language can be confusing. Knowing some of these terms may help you feel more prepared for your visit.

Part one: The basics

OBGYN: Short for Obstetrics (the science and care of pregnancy and childbirth) and Gynecology (the science and care of women, and those who were assigned female gender at birth). OBGYN refers to both the area of specialty, and to the doctors who do this work. Your family doctor may provide general OBGYN care, but if you need surgery, you’ll probably need to see an OBGYN specialist.

MD vs. DO: MD stands for Medical Doctor, a person who has specific medical knowledge. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, a similar training program. Both MDs and DOs can specialize in OBGYN.

NP and PA: Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are independent healthcare providers who may also specialize in OBGYN care. They generally do not do surgery.

Symptom: A feeling or experience in the body. In medical terms, this is different from a “sign”, which is something you can see. For example, endometriosis may cause symptoms of pain with periods or with sex, and may cause signs like bloating or heavy periods.

Speculum: Also known as “that duck bill thing”. A tool made of plastic or metal. It is placed in the vagina to allow your healthcare provider to see the inside of the vagina and the cervix at the top.

Pelvic exam

There are three parts to a complete pelvic exam. First, your healthcare provider will look at the outer area around the opening to the vagina (the vulva). Next is the speculum exam. Your provider may do a Pap test and testing for infections. Finally, they’ll place one hand on the belly and two fingers of the other hand into the vagina. They can feel the size and shape of the uterus and ovaries, and check for any painful areas. All of this can feel awkward. It may be uncomfortable, especially in the middle of an endometriosis flare. But it gives your provider important information to figure out the cause of your problems.1-3

Pap test

Also called Pap smear. Pap is short for Papanikolau, the name of one of the doctors who invented the test. With the speculum in place, and using a plastic wand and a tiny brush, the healthcare provider collects some cells from the surface of the cervix and places them in liquid (you’ll see a small plastic container). A microscope enlarges the cells. Then they are checked for any abnormalities, especially changes that could lead to cancer. A Pap test is not needed to look for endometriosis, but is an important part of your routine care.

This visit is really about you and your health, so be sure you understand the plan and next steps. Take a support person with you if you’d like. If you don’t feel clear about what your doctor tells you, please ask! If they ask you to schedule a test, make sure you know how to do that. Ask how they will let you know the test results, what to do if your problem gets worse, and when you should make your next appointment.

Read Part 2 here

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