Going to the gynecologist (gyno) can be awkward and and pretty intimidating, and, your doc may use some unfamiliar words, which doesn’t make anything any easier. To demystify what can seem like a secret language only your doc knows, we’ve created this guide of terms used by gynecologists to help you out.
You can use it to prep for your next visit, or you can use it after an appointment if you have any questions.
Female Anatomy and Bodily Functions:
Anus – The opening that you poop from, just below your vagina.
Areola – The flat darker skin around your nipple.
Bladder – The sac that holds your pee. It’s just above your vagina and sits on the bottom of the uterus.
Cervix – The bottom opening to the uterus. It is found deep inside the vagina. Think of your uterus like a light bulb. The wide bulb part is the main part of your uterus. The skinnier part that you screw into the light socket is where your cervix would be.
Clitoris – The hard nub of very sensitive tissue right where the two labia meet up at the top. It is a pleasure center and one area responsible for making sex feel good for a woman.
Cyst – Refers to any fluid-filled sac. Cysts on your ovaries are a normal part of your menstrual cycle, but sometimes, if they get too big, they can be abnormal and cause pain.
Fallopian tubes – The tubes that are connected to either side of the top of the uterus, the egg released from the ovary travels through the tube to the uterus, if you’ve had sex around the time of ovulation the egg is fertilized and you become pregnant.
Feces – Waste your body creates after digesting food. Poop.
Genitals – Sex organs. (applies to men and women). For women, sex organs include the vagina, labia, and clitoris.
Intercourse – Having sex. This word doesn’t just refer to vaginal sex, but also includes anal or oral sex, too.
Labia – The two fleshy “lips” around the vagina.
LMP – Last menstrual period. You will always be asked this at the doctor’s office. It means the first day of your last period, not when you finished your period.
Menses – A scientific term for your period.
Menstrual cycle – The time between when you start one period and when you start the next. It’s usually 28-31 days.
Menstruation –A scientific term your period.
Oral – Having to do with your mouth.
Ovaries – Two walnut-sized organs on either side of the uterus. They hold the eggs and release one each month.
Ovulation – When the ovary releases an egg, usually in the middle of the month between periods.
Perineum – The skin between your vagina and your anus.
Pubic bone – The bone you feel at the very bottom of your belly between your legs.
Stool – Another word for feces or poop.
Urethra – The smaller opening just above the vagina but still between the labia, it’s teeny and hard to see if you’re not looking for it. We’re urine/pee exits the body.
Urinate – To pee.
Urine – Another word for pee.
Uterus – the muscular female organ where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The soft lining of the uterus is meant to protect a pregnancy. Every month, when you don’t get pregnant, this lining is not needed, and your body gets rid of it. That’s where your period comes from. You start building up a new lining shortly after your period.
Vagina – The larger opening into the female body between the labia. The opening where a woman has her period and has sex.
Void – To pee.
Vomit – To throw up.
Vulva – The entire visible female sex region. (Basically, if there is pubic hair on it, it is considered part of the vulva.)
Office Equipment, Examinations or Procedures
Bi-manual Exam – An exam where doctors feel your uterus and ovaries with our hands to make sure they feel normal and don’t have any cysts. We gently place two fingers of one hand inside your vagina and put the other hand on your belly. We push down with the hand on your belly to move your uterus and ovaries towards the fingers that are inside of your body so we can feel the size and shape of them between our two hands. (In Latin, bi-means two and manual means hand, so it’s a two handed exam.)
Biopsy – Any time we take a tissue sample to send to a lab to tell us if there is a problem. We can take a biopsy of any part of the body, but at the gyno office, it is usually of the cervix. Doctors will also commonly biopsy funny looking moles (certain skin spots) to look for skin cancer. We give you some numbing medicine and then remove a very small piece from the area we are worried about.
Breast Exam – Part of an annual exam where we check your breasts for lumps and bumps. We’ll also teach you how to do it yourself in between appointments.
Colposcopy – If a pap smear comes back as abnormal, we do this procedure to take a closer look at the cervix. We use a speculum like we do for a pap smear, and then we spray or apply simple white vinegar on your cervix (vinegar makes precancerous cells show up as bright white). We look with a magnifying lens and if we see any white areas, we take very small biopsies of your cervix. These usually don’t hurt people, even though they seem like they could.
Pap smear – A procedure where the doctor takes a look inside your vagina to see your cervix (the bottom part of the uterus). We use a little brush that looks like a mascara wand or a brush that looks like a teeny broom to collect cells from the surface of the cervix. We look for cancer on the cervix or pre-cancerous changes. We can also use those cells to test for HPV, gonorrhea, or chlamydia (3 types of sexually transmitted infections). You get your first pap smear at age 21. Then, if it comes out normally, you get them every 2-3 years.
Pelvic exam – Any exam that we do below the belt. It can be just looking at the outside, a bi-manual exam, or a speculum exam.
Speculum – A little device that looks like a duck bill with a handle on it. We use it to look deep inside your vagina to see your cervix. It can be made out of clear plastic or metal. It looks and sounds scary, but only the small skinny part goes inside your body and it shouldn’t hurt.
Stirrups – Foot holders at the end of the exam table. For a speculum exam you lay on your back and put your heels in them. Then you scoot your butt all the way to the end of the table (We make you do that so that the handle of the speculum can be held low beneath the edge of the table, otherwise it pushes it up towards your pubic bone and can be uncomfortable.)
Medical Conditions or Treatments and Birth Control
BV – Bacterial vaginosis. It’s not an STD, but a shift in the normal bacteria of the vagina. The good bacteria that protects your vagina from infection can be altered from sex, medications (especially antibiotics), even sometimes the blood from your period. It causes symptoms like irritation, itching, thin frothy discharge or fishy smell from the vagina.
Candida – Another name for yeast.
Contraception – Any type of birth control, including the pill, the ring, the patch, condoms, shots, IUD.
Depo-provera – Birth control shots you get every 3 months.
Dysplasia – Any precancerous change on the cervix. It can be mild, which is common and not very concerning to docs (mild changes rarely progress to cancer) or severe, which is more concerning and, over time, may cause cervical cancer. Almost all dysplasia is related to the HPV virus.
Gardasil – The HPV vaccine. It only protects against the 4 most common types of HPV, 2 that cause warts and 2 that cause cancer. It protects you from the types that cause 70% of cancers. There are about 40 different strains of HPV, so you still have to get pap smears, even if you have had the vaccine.
HPV – Human papilloma virus. It is a sexually transmitted virus that comes in 2 types – low-risk that usually causes genital warts, and high-risk, which can cause cancer. 85% of people who have had sex have been in contact with HPV. It is VERY common. The good news is that your body usually clears it up over time without any treatment. For a few women, the immune system doesn’t clear it and over several years it can cause cancer – a good reason to get your exams and stay in touch with your doc!
IUD – Intrauterine device. A type of birth control device that is T-shaped and inserted into your vagina by a doctor. It can have hormones or no hormones. It can stay in your uterus for 5 to 10 years.
Mirena – An IUD with hormones.
Nuvaring – A type of birth control that looks like a ring and stays in the vagina. You change it every month.
OCP – Oral contraceptive pills also known as birth control pills, or “the pill.”
Paragard – A copper IUD with no hormones.
STIs – Sexually transmitted infections. They are sometimes called STDs, for “sexually transmitted disease.” Common STIs are herpes, chlamydia, and genital warts. Other less common, but serious STIs are HIV/AIDS, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
UTI – Urinary tract infection. A UTI is usually a bladder infection. Symptoms include having to pee a lot and burning when you pee. It can also cause pain in the lower part of your belly.
Yeast infection – An infection causing vaginal itching and clumpy white discharge from the vaginaYou can also get a yeast infection on your skin, typically in wet or sweaty areas, like the groin or below the breasts. On the skin, yeast causes an itchy red rash.
If your doc uses a word that’s not on this list of common terms used by gynecologists, or there’s something that you have more questions about, ask! It’s your doctor’s job to fill you in.