Women have it tough.
Not sure what you should be asking your gynaecologist during your annual check-up? Start here.
Besides being subjected to scrutiny from the way we dress to how many children we should have by the age of 30, society constantly tells us that we need to be presentable the minute we step out of the door due to how others might perceive us. It is no wonder that something as personal as seeing a gynecologists’ can be such a daunting task that many women opt not to do in their lifetime; the fear of the unknown overriding the health of their bodies.
The momentary vulnerability and mental discomfort, often deter women from making their annual trip to the gynecologists’. But it is important to note that the benefits of a visit to a gynecologists’ far outweigh the momentary mental discomfort when done with the right doctor.
“The trust between doctor and patient is very important, so choose a doctor you would be comfortable with,” says Dr Janani Sivanathan, obstetrician and gynecologists’ specializing in Maternal Fetal Medicine at Sunway Medical Centre, about considering the right gynecologists’. One can imagine that the act of seeing a gynecologists’ as an adult might be overwhelming enough, so how old should one be before seeing a gynecologists’?
Depending on the situation, girls with menstrual (period) problems should see a professional as early as possible. Routinely, a woman should visit a gynecologists’ even if there are no issues once she is sexually active or is more than 20 years of age, whichever comes first. “Once you hit 30, it is recommended that you get an annual pap smear, pelvic ultrasound, as well as a mammogram,” says Dr. Janani. “It is better to get checked than to procrastinate and leave things to a later stage. The first step is the biggest hurdle; once you get it done, that fear will be greatly reduced.”
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Asking the Important Questions
So, you have made your appointment … Now what?
If you have no underlying concerns and are just going for an annual checkup, it is good to have some questions in mind to fully utilize your time with your gynecologists’.
First of all, have an honest conversation with yourself and where you are at in life–are you sexually active? Are you planning on starting a family? Here are three useful discussion points to help you on your way:
1. Pap smear screening
A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina to detect signs of cervical cancer, also known as the “silent killer’. This is because symptoms do not appear until it reaches an advanced stage, and it is currently the third most common cancer in Malaysia.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Menstrual bleeding or vaginal discharge that is heavier than usual
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain
However, regular pap smears can help with the early detection of cervical cancer, a condition mainly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), thereby giving you a greater chance at a cure. It is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old.
2. Protection and contraception
“Women have to be empowered and take responsibility over their own bodies,” says Dr. Janani. So be sure to evaluate how best to look after your body, especially if you are sexually active.
It is important to remember that your visit to a gynecologists’ is confidential, so do not worry about having difficult conversations with your doctor. Talk about birth control options, what risks or side effects there are to each one and how it will benefit you before making an informed decision.
Choosing the right contraceptive method is important, be it hormonal methods like the pill to copper hormonal intrauterine devices (IUD) or physical barriers such as condoms. All offer different benefits, so be sure to discuss what would work best for you with your doctor.
3. Reproductive health
If you are planning to start a family, it is a good idea to speak with your gynecologists’ first before embarking on this life-changing journey. “Once a woman feels that she is ready for pregnancy, go for a check-up to ensure that everything is okay,” says Dr. Janani. “Checking underlying medical problems especially in the womb is key, along with identifying methods to optimize preconception conditions before getting pregnant.”
You may also consider genetic testing and ensuring your vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and chickenpox as these live viruses are not safe for pregnant women. And finally, find out if you fall under a high-risk pregnancy and ask your doctor the best way to navigate through it.