BJC HealthCare managers delivered the expertise of BJC Medical Group and the services of Missouri Baptist Medical Center closer to West St. Louis County patients by opening a new outpatient center at 15838 Fountain Plaza Drive in Chesterfield/Ellisville. While the center handles imaging, laboratory services and primary care/family medicine for patients ages 13 and older, it also provides specialty services in cardiology, ENT, spine, orthopedics and OB/GYN.
Two OB/GYN physicians at the new center have beneficial tips to share about women’s health: Dr. Abigail Chitwood and Dr. Heather Lopez.
Dr. Chitwood hails from Chesterfield, and now lives in Manchester. She earned her medical degree from Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and completed a residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"Find a doctor who you can connect with and trust, so you can discuss vulnerable topics," she recommends. "Working with women to make a difference in their lives is such an amazing field."
She says she enjoys following women through all of life’s changes, forming lasting relationships that give women confidence.
Patients can visit Dr. Chitwood for all general gynecological needs, well-woman exams, contraception counseling, Pap tests, HPV vaccinations, menopause, breast exams and adolescent gynecology. She also treats gynecological conditions, such as heavy or irregular periods, urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, ovarian cysts, uterine bleeding, fibroids and vulvar disorders. For expectant mothers, she provides full obstetric care, specializing in vaginal deliveries, C-sections, multiple births and other high-risk pregnancy conditions.
Dr. Lopez is a Chesterfield resident who is a board-eligible Obstetrics & Gynecology specialist. She earned her medical degree from Florida State University College of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. For expectant mothers, she provides full obstetric care, specializing in vaginal deliveries, C-sections, multiple births and other high-risk pregnancy conditions.
She says she chose to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology to care for and form relationships with women over the course of their lifetimes.
"Being an OBGYN is a privilege," she asserts. "I truly enjoy every aspect of my profession, from delivering babies to caring for a woman as she transitions through menopause. My biggest concern is keeping women up-to-date on screenings, especially for cervical and breast exams."
Patients can visit Dr. Lopez for all general gynecological needs: well-woman exams, Pap tests, HPV vaccinations, menopause, breast health, adolescent gynecology and birth control counseling. She also treats gynecological conditions, such as heavy or irregular periods, urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids.
- How often
A “well-woman exam” is recommended for every year. It's the OBGYN version of a physical with a primary doctor. Health maintenance preventative care, vaccines, Pap tests, mammograms and other health care, such as colonoscopies and bone density scans, are discussed. A physical exam is done (with or without a pelvic exam) when appropriate.
- How often
Pap smears needed
General rule is a Pap test would first occur at age 21, with a few rare exceptions. From ages 21-30, one every three years if results are normal. At 30 years, a Pap test with HPV testing every 5 years. If abnormal results, repeat Paps or additional testing and treatment sooner. Guidelines change as research is completed, so it’s important to follow up with doctors to know the most current recommendations.
- How often
Generally, mammograms start at age 40 and are recommended once a year. Those with a strong family history of certain cancers may need them sooner, or with other imaging, but always talk to a doctor for specific recommendations.
"I'm about normalizing the empowerment of one's own body, and I'm here to help. I realize many young women are afraid of gynecologists. I want to make it less scary, regardless of whether a person's life goal is to get pregnant or to prevent pregnancy. We recommend starting to formulate OBGYN relationships and preventive care during adolescence, but it's a bit different for everyone," says Dr. Chitwood.
She says women often have health questions. "My job is to educate patients about what’s normal and to provide options. I don't want anyone to ever feel stressed or forced into certain decisions," she adds.
Dr. Chitwood says sometimes women worry too long at home about health issues or problems that may not be actually happening, which is why screening and tests are so important. She encourages everyone to speak to their physicians about the most current recommendations about screening tests. For example, OBGYN facilities used to do Pap tests on teenagers, however the guidelines have been updated to begin at 21 years of age.
The best place to start in catching up on women's personal health is well-women exams, reminds Dr. Lopez. "Even if there's not a need for internal pelvic exams, well woman exams are times to obtain preventative screenings, which provides us with early detection for things such as abnormal Pap smears or breast cancer which can be seen on mammograms.”
Dr. Lopez says OBGYNs assist with primary care issues, such as colonoscopies, blood pressure, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices and osteopenia. She believes changes are coming for future Pap and HPV tests recommendations. "Through research, we've learned most cervical cancer is caused by high-risk strains of HPV, soon officials may suggest just HPV tests every three to five years without cytology, unless there are other indicators," she adds.
"We find some post-menopausal women put off seeking medical assistance for sporadic bleeding, thinking it's normal, when in fact, it’s often the first sign of endometrial cancer," says Dr. Lopez.
She says she likes to take first appointments slowly and to initially have a discussion to get to know one another. "As an advocate of West St. Louis County women, I don't want anyone to be fearful about coming to the OBGYN.”