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Don’t panic! It’s all for good health

If you have a teenage daughter, you both probably have a lot of questions. Her body is undergoing changes, and she may have experienced her first menstrual period.  

With that, you might be asking yourself if it’s time for her first gynecological visit

“For many parents, the first visit to a gynecologist can be an uncomfortable thing to consider,” said Manuel Arreguin, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Geisinger. “However, it’s important to not put off a gynecologic appointment as a girl matures; this about making sure she is healthy as she grows older.”

The ideal age for a first gynecological appointment can vary, but here are a few factors to consider.

  • Early, late or irregular menstruation: In most cases, a girl’s menstrual period should begin three years after the onset of puberty, between the ages of 12 and 13. If your daughter’s first period doesn’t fall into this window, you may want to have her checked out by a gynecologist for a hormone imbalance. 

    If periods remain irregular after more than a year or two, she should see a doctor.
  • Exceptionally painful cramps or heavy periods can also be a result of overactive hormones. If pain and cramps are compromising your daughter’s quality of life or heavy periods last longer than a week, a visit to the gynecologist can help diagnose any issues with regular hormone production. You should also schedule a visit if her periods last more than seven days or soak more than 1-2 pads per hour.
  • Sexual activity: As soon as your daughter becomes sexually active, she should begin receiving regular sexually transmitted disease (STD) screenings and vaginal health exams. Your teen should also receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine before the age of 26. 

“More than 67 percent will have had a sexual experience before age 19,” said Dr. Arreguin. “So it’s important that your child has the right education and resources to stay healthy. 

Outside of factors such as complications or sexual activity, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls make their first gynecologist visit between the ages of 13 and 15. 

“It’s important to remember that early appointments aren’t like an adult’s gynecological exam,” said Dr. Arreguin.

In fact, most gynecologists won’t conduct a pelvic exam or pap smear for teens who aren’t sexually active. Both ACOG and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology recommend those screenings begin at age 21. 

“Usually, these early appointments are more for creating a baseline with patients,” said Dr. Arreguin. “We want to create an open line of communication so they’re comfortable speaking freely if there ever is cause for concern.” Conversations like these also can go a long way in debunking schoolyard myths about sexual activity. 

During the appointment, the gynecologist will check the patient’s vitals and open the conversation for questions before conducting a quick external genital exam. They may ask you to be in the examination room at the beginning of the appointment to provide support, but will likely ask you to leave when it’s time for exams or more personal questions. 

Finally, your daughter’s gynecologist will likely speak to her about maintaining a healthy weight, as teens are often at the greatest risk for developing eating disorders or unhealthy relationships with food. 

Manuel Arreguin, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and is director of Women’s Health at Geisinger Northeast. For more information about Women’s Health services at Geisinger, please call 800-275-6401 or click here.