Gynaecology or gynecology is the medical practice dealing with the health of the female reproductive system (uterus,vagina, and ovaries). Literally, outside medicine, it means “the science of women“. Its counterpart is andrology, which deals with medical issues specific to the male reproductive system.
Almost all modern gynaecologists are also obstetricians (see obstetrics and gynaecology). In many areas, the specialties of gynaecology and obstetrics overlap. Gynaecology has been considered to end at 28 weeks gestation, but practically there is no clear cut-off. Since 1st October 1992, this cut-off may be considered to occur at 24 weeks gestation in the United States, since the law and definition of abortion changed to bring it closer to the gestation at which a foetus becomes viable.
The word “gynaecology” comes from the Greek ancient Greek gyne, γυνή, modern Greek gynaika, γυναίκα, meaning woman + logia meaning study, so gynaecology literally is the study of women.
Gynaecology is typically considered a consultant specialty. In some countries, women must first see a general practitioner (GP; also known as a family practitioner (FP)) prior to seeing a gynaecologist. If their condition requires training, knowledge, surgical technique, or equipment unavailable to the GP, the patient is then referred to a gynaecologist. In the United States, however, law and many health insurance plans allow gynaecologists to provideprimary care in addition to aspects of their own specialty. With this option available, some women opt to see a gynaecological surgeon for non-gynaecological problems without another physician’s referral.
As in all of medicine, the main tools of diagnosis are clinical history and examination. Gynaecological examination is quite intimate, more so than a routine physical exam. It also requires unique instrumentation such as the speculum. The speculum consists of two hinged blades of concave metal or plastic which are used to retract the tissues of the vagina and permit examination of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus located within the upper portion of the vagina. Gynaecologists typically do a bimanual examination (one hand on the abdomen and one or two fingers in the vagina) to palpate the cervix, uterus, ovaries and bony pelvis. It is not uncommon to do a rectovaginal examinationfor complete evaluation of the pelvis, particularly if any suspicious masses are appreciated. Male gynaecologists may have a female chaperone for their examination. An abdominal and/or vaginal ultrasound can be used to confirm any abnormalities appreciated with the bimanual examination or when indicated by the patient’s history.
The main conditions dealt with by a gynaecologist are:
As with all surgical specialties, gynaecologists may employ medical or surgical therapies (or many times, both), depending on the exact nature of the problem that they are treating. Pre- and post-operative medical management will often employ many standard drug therapies, such as antibiotics, diuretics, antihypertensives, and antiemetics. Additionally, gynaecologists make frequent use of specialized hormone-modulating therapies (such as Clomifenecitrate and hormonal contraception) to treat disorders of the female genital tract that are responsive to pituitary and/orgonadal signals.
For lists of gynaecological drugs (by the ATC classification system), see ATC code G01 and ATC code G02.
Surgery, however, is the mainstay of gynaecological therapy. For historical and political reasons, gynaecologists were previously not considered “surgeons”, although this point has always been the source of some controversy. Modern advancements in both general surgery and gynaecology, however, have blurred many of the once rigid lines of distinction. The rise of sub-specialties within gynaecology which are primarily surgical in nature (for example urogynaecology and gynaecological oncology) have strengthened the reputations of gynaecologists as surgical practitioners, and many surgeons and surgical societies have come to view gynaecologists as comrades of sorts. As proof of this changing attitude, gynaecologists are now eligible for fellowship in both the American College of Surgeons and Royal Colleges of Surgeons, and many newer surgical textbooks include chapters on (at least basic) gynaecological surgery.
Some of the more common operations that gynaecologists perform include:
In the UK the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, based in London, encourages the study and advancement of the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. This is done through postgraduate medical education and training development, and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision. The RCOG International Office works with other international organisations to help lower maternal morbidity and mortality in under-resourced countries.
Gynaecologic oncology is a subspecialty of gynaecology, dealing with gynaecology-related cancer.