Gynaecological history taking has a number of questions that are not part of the standard history taking format and therefore it’s important to understand what information you are expected to gain when taking a gynaecological history. Check out the gynaecological history taking mark scheme here.
Opening the consultation
Introduce yourself – name/role
Confirm patient details – name/DOB
Explain the need to take a history
Ensure the patient is comfortable
It’s important to use open questioning to elicit the patient’s presenting complaint
“So what’s brought you in today?” or “Tell me about your symptoms”
Allow the patient time to answer, trying not to interrupt or direct the conversation.
Facilitate the patient to expand on their presenting complaint if required
“Ok, so tell me more about that” “Can you explain what that pain was like?”
History of presenting complaint
Onset – when did the symptom start? / was the onset acute or gradual?
Duration – minutes / hours / days / weeks / months / years
Severity – e.g. if symptom is vaginal bleeding – how many sanitary pads are they using?
Course – is the symptom worsening, improving, or continuing to fluctuate?
Cyclical – do symptoms have any relationship to the menstrual cycle?
Intermittent or continuous? – is the symptom always present or does it come and go?
Precipitating factors – are there any obvious triggers for the symptom?
Relieving factors – does anything appear to improve the symptoms e.g. an inhaler/?
Associated features – are there other symptoms that appear associated e.g. fever/malaise?
Previous episodes – has the patient experienced this symptom previously?
Key gynaecological symptoms:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge – suggestive of infection
- Vaginal bleeding – menorrhagia / intermenstrual/ post-coital / post-menopausal
- Vulval itching / discomfort / skin changes
- Abdominal / pelvic pain – dysmenorrhea / dyspareunia
Other relevant symptoms:
- Urinary symptoms – frequency / urgency / dysuria
- Bowel symptoms – change in bowel habit / pain on defecation
- Fever – pelvic inflammatory disease – e.g. chlamydia
- Tiredness/fatigue – anaemia – often occurs alongside menorrhagia
- Weight loss – may suggest malignancy
- Abdominal distension – uterine / ovarian malignancy
Pain – if pain is a symptom, clarify the details of the pain using SOCRATES
- Site – where is the pain
- Onset – when did it start? / sudden vs gradual?
- Character – sharp/dull ache
- Radiation – does the pain move anywhere else?
- Associations – other symptoms associated with the pain
- Time course – worsening / improving / fluctuating / time of day dependent
- Exacerbating / Relieving factors – does anything make the pain worse or better?
- Severity – on a scale of 0-10, how severe is the pain?
Ideas, Concerns and Expectations
Ideas – what are the patient’s thoughts regarding their symptoms?
Concerns – explore any worries the patient may have regarding their symptoms
Expectations – gain an understanding of what the patient is hoping to achieve from the consultation
Summarise what the patient has told you about their presenting complaint.
This allows you to check your understanding regarding everything the patient has told you.
It also allows the patient to correct any inaccurate information and expand further on certain aspects.
Once you have summarised, ask the patient if there’s anything else that you’ve overlooked.
Continue to periodically summarise as you move through the rest of the history.
Signposting involves explaining to the patient:
- What you have covered – “Ok, so we’ve talked about your symptoms”
- What you plan to cover next – “Now I’d like to discuss your past medical history”
Age at menarche – the earlier, the greater exposure to oestrogen – ↑ risk of breast cancer
Last menstrual period (LMP) – defined as the first day of the LMP
Duration and regularity – e.g. 5 day period occurring regularly every 28 days
Flow – heavy/light – number of sanitary towels/tampons can be useful to estimate loss
Menstrual pain – use the SOCRATES method shown above to assess menstrual pain
Menopausal symptoms – hot flushes / vaginal dryness / infrequent periods
Hormonal contraceptives – combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) / progesterone only pill (POP) / depot / implant
If postmenopausal – what age did they go through the menopause?
Post-coital bleeding – e.g. cervical ectropion / STDs/ vaginitis
- Consider malignancy in older females – e.g. endometrial cancer
- Younger females may have unexplained irregular periods
- Poor compliance with oral contraceptives can result in intermenstrual bleeding
Previous cervical smears – when? / results? / treatment (e.g. LETZ )
Previous gynecological problems and treatments – STDs / PID
Current contraception – COCP / POP / Depot / Implant / Implanted uterine device
Current pregnancy – how many weeks? / recent scans?
Gravidity – number of times a woman has been pregnant, regardless of the outcome
Parity – X = (any live or stillbirth after 24 weeks) | Y = (number lost before 24 weeks)
- Current age of child
- Birth weight
- Complications – antenatal / perinatal / postnatal
Ask sensitively regarding miscarriages, terminations and ectopic pregnancies
Past medical history
Gynaecological conditions – STDs / cervical dysplasia / malignancy
Other medical conditions
Surgical history – C-section / LETZ / prolapse repair / hysterectomy
Any recent hospital admissions? – when and why?
- COCP / POP / Implant / Depot
- Tranexamic acid
- Hormone replacement therapy
Other regular medication
Over the counter drugs
Uterine / ovarian / genital tract cancers
Smoking – How many cigarettes a day? How long have they smoked for?
Alcohol – How many units a week? – be specific about type / volume / strength of alcohol
Recreational drug use
- House / flat – stairs / adaptations
- Who lives with the patient? – important when considering discharging home from the hospital
- Any carer input? – what level of care do they receive?
Activities of daily living:
- Is the patient independent and able to fully care for themselves?
- Can they manage self-hygiene/housework/food shopping?
- Is the illness interfering with these daily activities?
Systemic enquiry involves performing a brief screen for symptoms in other body systems.
This may pick up on symptoms the patient failed to mention in the presenting complaint.
Some of these symptoms may be relevant to the diagnosis (e.g. reduced urine output in dehydration).
Choosing which symptoms to ask about depends on the presenting complaint and your level of experience.
Cardiovascular – Chest pain / Palpitations / Dyspnoea / Syncope / Orthopnoea / Peripheral oedema
Respiratory – Dyspnoea / Cough / Sputum / Wheeze / Haemoptysis / Chest pain
GI – Appetite / Nausea / Vomiting / Indigestion / Dysphagia / Weight loss / Abdominal pain / Bowel habit
Urinary – Volume of urine passed / Frequency / Dysuria / Urgency / Incontinence
CNS – Vision / Headache / Motor or sensory disturbance/ Loss of consciousness / Confusion
Musculoskeletal – Bone and joint pain / Muscular pain
Dermatology – Rashes / Skin breaks / Ulcers / Lesions
Closing the consultation
Summarise the history