The term "OB-GYN" is an abbreviation for obstetrician-gynecologist. An OB-GYN is a healthcare provider who specializes in female reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth. There are also OB-GYNs who offer general medical services that are similar to what primary care doctors provide. Other OB-GYNs specifically focus on the female reproductive system. Routine health services and preventive screenings for women are also provided by OB-GYNs.
OB-GYN can also mean "obstetrics" and "gynecology," which are the sciences that the doctor specializes, or an obstetrician-gynecologist when referring to the doctor.
What is obstetrics?
Obstetrics is a branch of gynecologist medicines that deals with childbirth and a woman's overall health before, during, and after giving birth. OB-GYNs can also perform surgery, assist with labor and delivery, and conduct office visits. Some provide their services through private practice, while others are part of a hospital or a larger institution.
What is gynecology?
Gynecology is a branch of medicine that concentrates on female bodies and female reproductive health. It also includes the care, diagnosis, and treatment of women's health problems, such as problems in the vagina, ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
Gynecology also involves the screening and treatment of issues that are related to women's breasts. This medical field deals with female health from puberty to adulthood. If women become pregnant, they need to see an obstetrician.
Most of the time, OB-GYNs are generalists, who provide wide-ranging OB-GYN services. However, some OB-GYNs particularly specialize in more than one subspecialty, such as:
1. Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM)
Maternal-fetal medicine focuses on providing care, diagnosis, and treatment of pregnant women and their unborn children. Expectant mothers with high-risk problems in their pregnancies benefit from seeing a maternal-fetal medicine OB-GYN or perinatologist. Potential high-risk pregnancy complications include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Preterm labor
- Gestational or chronic hypertension
- Bleeding disorders and blood clotting problems
2. Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI)
This subspecialty focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of disorders in the female reproductive system, including physiology and endocrinology. REI specialists also provide focus care to female gynecological conditions, which include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause.
REI specialists treat patients with the following conditions:
- Reproductive hormone disorders
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
- Habitual miscarriage
- Pelvic pain and endometriosis
- Insulin resistance
Infertility issues are also treated by REI specialists. They include:
- Ovarian factors
- Age-Related infertility
- Unexplained infertility
- Tubal factor infertility or fallopian tube obstruction
- Male Factor Infertility
3. Gynecologic Oncology
Gynecologic oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers related to the female reproductive system, which includes the ovaries, uterus, vulva, and cervix.
4. Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery
The surgeons specializing in this field focus on providing comprehensive care for women with issues in the urinary tract and pelvic floor disorders as well as offer updated treatment, which includes nonsurgical, surgical, and conservative therapy for pelvic floor disorders.
Requirements Related to Training and Education
To become an OB-GYN, a bachelor's degree and a four-year medical school training are required. Another four years of OB-GYN residency must also be completed after medical school, in which doctors learn more about women's health and reproductive problems, including the diagnosis, treatment, management, and prevention of these issues. Their residency training is usually under the supervision of a head physician or an attending doctor in a hospital. To specialize in a specific area, three years of additional training must be completed after residency.
A specialty board certification examination, which is given by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, must be passed after finishing all of the required training. Every six years, a maintenance exam is taken by OB-GYNs to maintain their certification.
Conditions Treated by an OB-GYN
An OB-GYN diagnoses and treats a wide variety of obstetric and gynecologic conditions. They see patients who have any of the following health problems:
- Hormonal disorders
- Genital itching
- Vaginal infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Urinary incontinence
- Pelvic pain
- Breast disorders
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Procedures Performed by an OB-GYN
An OB-GYN may perform minor or major surgical procedures for outpatients and inpatients. They include:
- Tubal ligation (female sterilization)
- Dilation and curettage (D&C)
- Laser surgery
- Myomectomy (surgical removal of fibroids)
- Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)
Other procedures that OB-GYNs manage and perform are:
- Spontaneous vaginal delivery
- Cesarean section or C-section (the surgical procedure to deliver a baby)
- Operative vaginal delivery or assisted delivery
- In vitro fertilization
- Amniocentesis (specific diagnostic prenatal test)
Other routine screening and preventive tests:
When to visit an OB-GYN
Preventive care is very important when it comes to health issues in women. Healthy women without reproductive health issues should annually visit an OB-GYN to get a preventive checkup. During the visit, OB-GYNs may evaluate overall female health, order laboratory tests for certain diseases, or recommend immunizations. A pelvic exam may also be performed. Other specific tests or screenings can be requested depending on the patient's health and age. Aside from getting an annual checkup, women who experience changes in their menstrual cycle should also see an OB-GYN. These changes include menarche (first menstrual cycle), pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.
Other unusual symptoms that warrant a visit to the OB-GYN include:
- Painful urination
- Unusual menstrual cramps
- An abnormal frequency or volume of menstrual bleeding
- Dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse)
Women who are sexually active may also visit an OB-GYN for the following female reproductive issues:
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Urinary tract infections
- Prevention and treatment of painful intercourse
- Methods of contraception (birth control or sterilization)
- Safe sex advice and information (prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination
When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth:
- Pregnancy planning
- Antenatal care or prenatal care
- Infertility treatment
- Healthy diet tips
- Childbirth and labor options
- Labor and birthing options
- Genetic screening and testing
- Breastfeeding and lactation advice
- Postpartum depression (PPD)
Menopause and related symptoms and treatment:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Low sex drive
- Prevention and treatment of bone loss
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)