Society is abundant with reminders about our health. We can't read a newspaper, surf the Internet or watch television without encountering an advertisement for a new medication, a cereal that will help to lower our cholesterol or an improvement in a weight loss plan.

With all of the constant chatter, we have to actively work at ignoring our health. Yet, we do.

As a society, we continue to be obese, we continue to use tobacco products and we continue to avoid the routine screenings that help us to maintain our optimal health. One such example of annual screenings that we neglect is gynecological care.

For women, a yearly visit to the gynecologist is not only important during child-bearing years, but equally as important as women age.

As women grow older, their bodies change and subsequently so do their needs.

While it is advised that younger women should have annual gynecological examinations (also known as "well-woman exams") that are inclusive of the traditional pap smear testing, older women may not need this test as frequently or at all, depending on their history.

However, the decreased necessity of this specific test does not mean that women should forgo the annual examination altogether _ the pap smear is only one part of an annual gynecological examination.

Routine health questions, vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, weight, etc.), breast examinations (including physical examination and referrals/requisitions for mammograms), as well as routine blood work, screenings for cervical and/or uterine cancer and sexually transmitted diseases are all part of an annual exam.

Annual exams are also good opportunities to discuss other health concerns that are common as women age, including osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, menopause and changes in cholesterol and blood pressure. Your physician may be instrumental in identifying other medical conditions that may exist, as well as available treatment options to address them in a timely manner.

While any trip to see your physician can cause anxiety, it is helpful to remember a few basic tips:

1. Bring a list of questions or concerns you may have for your provider to ensure the opportunity to have all of your questions addressed.

2. Your provider is able to discuss all aspects of your health care with you, so don't avoid asking questions you feel may not be immediately related to the purpose of your visit.

3. Based on your history, your current medical needs and input from you, your physician will be able to determine the frequency of visits and treatments to best address your needs going forward.

4. Medical examinations are quicker and easier than you may expect, so don't delay.

Dr. Bryan S. Evanczyk is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and is a member of the medical staff at A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in Oneonta.

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