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What is an OB/GYN?
An OB/GYN is a medical doctor specializing in female reproductive health. The initials “OB” and “GYN” refer to two separate medical fields usually practiced together. Obstetrics (the “OB” of OB/GYN) deals with health care during pre-conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and post-delivery, while gynecology (the “GYN” or OB/GYN) deals with the general care of women's health issues. So while obstetrics deals specifically with prenatal care, pregnancy, high-risk pregnancies, and other medical needs of pregnant women (or women soon to become pregnant), gynecology deals with a woman's reproductive health and wellness more generally.
To become an OB/GYN, candidates must:
- Complete four years of undergraduate studies with prerequisite coursework, including: In/organic chemistry, biology, and physics
- Pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Complete four years of medical school
- Complete a four-year OB/GYN residency program that has been approved by the American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) with clinical rotations in gynecology, gynecologic oncology, reproductive endocrinology, and ultrasonography
After graduation, OB/GYN candidates must pass a two-step certification process through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. After completing these final two steps, OB/GYNs are officially board-certified, a necessary credential at most hospitals and clinics.
OB/GYNs have over a decade of education and clinical experience. This training qualifies these physicians to offer diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative medicine to women of all backgrounds.
What is the difference between obstetrics and gynecology?
Obstetrics deals with all aspects of pregnancy, including prenatal and postnatal care. Obstetricians are responsible for delivering babies and treating pregnancy-related issues, such as fetal distress and ectopic pregnancies (the fetus grows outside the uterus). Obstetricians and endocrinologists can also provide therapy to help with fertility and pregnancy issues.
Gynecologists specialize in the female reproductive system and treat various women's health conditions.
Gynecologists help women with reproductive issues from their first period through menopause.
To do so, gynecologists will perform several regular tests and exams, such as:
- Pap smear (to screen for cervical cancer)
- Breast exams (screening for breast cancer)
- Pelvic exams (screening for ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, STIs, and cancer)
Gynecologists also provide services like:
- Contraceptive/ birth control counseling
- Endometriosis treatment
- Abnormal/ irregular menstruation
- Polyps in the reproductive system (usually in the cervix or vagina)
- Infection (such as UTIs or STIs)
What conditions do OB/GYNs treat?
With over a decade of training, OB/GYNs have the experience to treat thousands of illnesses, diseases, and conditions related to the female reproductive system.
Common conditions include:
Incontinence: Urinary incontinence--a loss of bladder control--affects people of all ages and genders. Individuals dealing with incontinence may occasionally experience urine leakage or intense feelings of urinating without time to get to a restroom.
Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer affects nearly 14,000 women per year. This form of cancer starts in the cervix–the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina–and is often caused by exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV). While cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix, it most often occurs in people over 30. Common symptoms include bleeding after intercourse, a foul-smelling discharge, and pelvic pain.
Menstrual disorders: The early signs of a menstrual disorder include heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, abnormally frequent bleeding, and severely painful cramps. These symptoms potentially indicate a menstrual disorder, such as endometriosis, endometrial polyps, endometrial cancer, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Ovarian cysts: Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or pockets within or on the surface of an ovary. They can range in size. In most cases, ovarian cysts are harmless and do not cause any symptoms. However, if these growths become too large, they can press into other internal organs, causing pain in the lower right side of the abdomen. Most ovarian cysts are caused by the menstrual cycle. If left untreated, ovarian cysts can cause the ovary to move and twist (ovarian torsion), resulting in severe pelvic pain and reduced blood flow to the ovary.
Pelvic pain/ pelvic inflammatory disease: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs. It is most commonly caused by harmful bacteria traveling through the reproductive system and infecting the uterus or fallopian tubes. Common symptoms of PID include abdominal pain, unusual vaginal discharge, unusual vaginal bleeding, and pain during sex. PID is usually a complication caused by a sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, and can cause further complications, such as infertility and the scarring of pelvic organs.
Urinary tract infections: A urinary tract infection is a prevalent form of bacterial infection in any part of the urinary system. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract and begin to spread to the bladder and urethra. Cystitis is a type of UTI that occurs when the bladder becomes inflamed. Women are at greater risk for UTIs than men due to their anatomy. The urethra is closer to the anus in women than in men. This anatomical layout makes harmful bacteria more likely to spread from the anus to the urinary system. Additionally, the urethra is shorter, allowing faster passage of harmful bacteria from the outside environment into the bladder.
When should I start seeing an OB/GYN?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls first see an OB/GYN between the ages of 13-15. A primary care physician can handle many issues and concerns before age 13. The first visit with an OB/GYN may just be a talk about development. There may be personal questions about puberty, menstrual periods, and sexual activity. Most girls will not need a pap smear or pelvic exam on their first visit unless they are experiencing abnormal pain or bleeding. Often, the OB/GYN conducts a general health exam and an external genital exam.
A general health exam includes:
- Measurement of height
- Measurement of weight
- Blood pressure check
An external genital exam includes:
- An examination of the vulva.
The external genital exam can help girls learn about pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and general knowledge about the anatomy of the female reproductive system.
After this initial visit, women should see an OB/GYN once a year. These annual visits are crucial in maintaining the general wellness of a woman’s reproductive system while screening for complications like cancer and STIs. Early detection of cancer improves the efficacy of cancer treatment, making regular gynecologic visits a cornerstone of women’s health.
How do I book an OB/GYN appointment?
OB/GYN visits are fundamental to women’s health and the health of the reproductive system. Sesame has partnered with hundreds of OB/GYNs nationwide—including New York City—to offer comprehensive and affordable care regardless of insurance status. Sesame connects you directly with providers, not insurance companies, so you can get high-quality care without worrying about networks or hidden fees.
Here’s how to book a visit:
- Search "OB/GYN" in Sesame’s search bar
- Explore the list of nearby service providers
- Choose from video or in-person services.
- Choose a time that best accommodates your schedule.
- Book your visit!
Yep, it’s that easy. Don’t wait to get the health care you need. Book an in-person or video visit today.