Story by Tara Ekren
When you think of gynecology, does a yearly pap test come to mind? If you answered yes, you aren’t alone, but gynecology is so much more.
By definition, gynecology is a branch of medicine that deals with the functions and diseases specific to women and girls, especially those affecting the reproductive system. Basically, gynecology is women’s health and encompasses everything about women’s bodies and staying healthy, not just pap tests.
As guidelines have changed over time with women’s health screenings, Essentia Health OB/GYN Dr. Stefanie Gefroh Ellison explains, “It is still recommended that women get their annual women’s health exam each year. This visit includes a full body exam, breast exam, pelvic exam and may or may not include a pap smear.”
What you may not realize is that gynecology can encompass anxiety and mood, which can be tied to hormone levels, as well as sexual health, vaginal health and sometimes abdominal and anatomical issues.
“Gynecologists see a wide range of patients from pre-pubescent teens to elderly women,” says Dr. Gefroh Ellison. “Everything from infertility to menstruation to chronic infections to incontinence and menopause.”
Pre-teens and teens
Gynecology is about establishing a relationship. A young patient can be set up with a gynecologist and most likely the visit will be a conversation. “These appointments are about starting that relationship, talking about feeling confident about your body, what’s normal, building that confidence and empowering girls to talk about their bodies and not feel ashamed or embarrassed,” shares Dr. Gefroh Ellison. “You have control over your body, and I want young girls to know that.”
One misconception many women have is that if they bring their younger daughter to a gynecologist, it always means they will have a pelvic exam. “That’s just not the case. I would be very hard pressed to find a need for a pelvic exam at that age,” explains Dr. Gefroh Ellison.
Your gynecologist can be your first visit when you are thinking about pregnancy and can also be your obstetrician. “Women or couples will come in to discuss pregnancy and how to optimize their body to become pregnant and how to maintain a healthy pregnancy,” shares Dr. Gefroh Ellison. “These are some of my favorite visits.” Your gynecologist can talk with you about what’s normal and provide reassurance, but also provide guidance when something’s not right.
Menopause and post-menopausal
Gynecological care continues well past the childbearing years. Long after a woman’s cycles have stopped, gynecologists continue to see them to discuss issues such as bone health, hormone levels, vaginal and bladder health and other topics.
Hormone therapy is a constantly evolving field and we learn new things every day. Hormones are no longer an automatic treatment for menopausal and post-menopausal women. Every woman is unique, and a one-size-fits-all treatment doesn’t always work. “We are seeing a lot of tailored options for hormone therapy for women today,” explains Dr. Gefroh Ellison.
Gynecologists may also treat conditions surgically. Surgical treatments can range from tubal ligation (permanent birth control) to prolapse (when pelvic organs push into the vaginal space) to hysterectomies (removing the uterus) to ablations (using heat to reduce menstrual flow). Robotic surgery has become the most common way that gynecological surgeries are performed. The robotic surgery gives the surgeon more dexterity and they can take care of more complex surgical issues. The robotic surgery also tends to have less bleeding, smaller incisions and better recovery for the patient. “In the past, a woman could have a long hospital stay after a hysterectomy but today with robotic surgery, the patient is usually able to go home the same day and recover at home,” says Dr. Gefroh Ellison.
If you would like to make an appointment with one of Essentia Health’s OB/GYN providers, visit EssentiaHealth.org to learn more or call 701-364-8900.
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