Women's health care can include a wide variety of general and specific medical services. General women's health care services that are provided by most primary care physicians include:
There are additional women's health services that are provided by specialists, including:
If you need medical care for something specific, like if you're pregnant or going through menopause, you'll want to talk to your primary care provider about referring you to the women's health specialist they prefer.
However, if you're looking for general women's health services like birth control or preventive health services like pelvic exams, you probably don't need to spend the extra time, and potentially extra money, looking for a women's health specialist. Most primary care providers should be able to provide you with the basic primary care services you need to stay healthy.
Transgender males or those transitioning will want to find a specialist or a primary care provider who has had transgender health experience. Lesbians may also want to talk to others in the LGBT community to try to gauge how welcoming their women's health provider is to their sexual orientation.
The most important thing is that you're completely comfortable with your women's health service provider, as you need to be able to tell them everything about what's going on "down there".
Speaking of "down there", reproductive health is probably the most recognizable part of women's health care. Reproductive health services include things like birth control, STI/STD testing, Pap smears, pelvic exams, and pregnancy testing, just to name a few.
Birth control comes in many shapes and sizes.
Birth control options for individuals with uteruses is often hormonal and can be administered in the form of a daily pill, a shot every 3 months, an implant in the arm or cervix that lasts anywhere from 3-10 years, and more.
Birth control also comes in a couple of non-hormonal options, including condoms, implants, and tubal ligation (tubed tied). These methods last anywhere from single-use (condoms) to permanent (tubal ligation) and have varying methods of complexity.
When picking a birth control option, there's a lot to consider, and many options. Your primary care provider or women's health specialist will be able to help you determine what the best birth control method is for you.
A primary care providers should be able to run tests for all of the more common STI/STDs and can help you get the necessary medication if any tests come back positive. Getting these tests through your primary care provider could save you the time and money that you may have spent by going to the ER or Urgent Care.
As soon as you think you may have come in contact with an STI or you notice pain or discomfort in the genital area, contact your primary care provider to see how soon they can get you in.
For HIV testing, it's especially important that you get tested as soon as possible after possible exposure so that you can start to take preventive medication within the required window to keep from getting infected. Read about some of the early signs of HIV here.
Some primary care providers like Apicha Community Health Center have access to rapid HIV testing, and can get you a prescription for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) if needed to try to reduce the probability of infection.
Pap Smears and pelvic exams are an important part of your reproductive health. Most doctors will advise that you start receiving pelvic exams at the age of 16, or at whatever age you've become sexually active. Depending on your age and activities, your doctor may advise that you're receiving a pelvic exam once a year, or once every two years.
Along with a pelvic exam, the doctor may also do a Pap smear, which will help screen for cervical cancer or other abnormalities in the cervix. The frequency of this service also depends on age and risk factors.
Have more questions about getting a pelvic exam as a transgender individual? Read more here.
Many primary care providers are also able to provide pregnancy testing for patients or walk-ins. Many providers will require that you take a pregnancy test before prescribing some birth control methods, but you can also ask your primary care provider to conduct a pregnancy test during one of your scheduled visits if you're concerned. Some medical care providers, like Apicha Community Health Center, can also do walk-in pregnancy testing for those who prefer anonymity.
The pregnancy test commonly done at the doctor's office works much like the take-home test you buy in a store. They'll have you pee in a cup and then the urine is tested for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which the body starts creating after cells begin to form in the placenta. hCG can be detected in urine 12-14 days after conception, or 11 days after conception in blood tests.
Your doctor might order a blood test if you've already taken the at-home test and they want to confirm pregnancy.
Individuals with uteruses have some unique mental challenges, and it's important to ask for medical help with those mental challenges if they begin to feel overwhelming.
Some challenges that behavioral health providers often offer assistance with include:
One behavioral health concern that people often deal with in silence is difficulty with sex and intimacy. Having trouble having an orgasm, being disinterested in sex, and especially pain during sex are all things you can talk to your doctor about. They can help walk you through some options for how to make sex more enjoyable, help you determine what may be causing your disinterest, or refer you to a specialist who can provide counseling or additional treatment if needed.
Another behavioral health concern facing new parents is postpartum depression. Common symptoms of postpartum depression are:
If you have these feelings for longer than a week or two after giving birth, talk to your doctor or obstetrician about how you're feeling. They can refer you to counseling specifically for postpartum depression, and in some cases provide medication to help.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
Your body and mind are your two most important assets, and taking care of them should be a priority. Often though, it seems like a daunting task to go through the search process to find a women's health provider.
Apicha Community Health Center can offer the basic women's health services that you need to stay healthy, like pelvic exams, birth control prescriptions and pregnancy testing in the same clinic that you're already receiving your primary care services.
"[Apicha CHC] serves those who are overlooked elsewhere."
quote from "Why I Love My Community Health Center" campaign
"...They helped me in being comfortable to ask medical questions without embarrassment and have always answered questions without judgment."
quote from "Why I Love My Community Health Center" campaign