For most women, a routine annual visit with her gynecologist includes briefly reviewing her menstrual cycle, addressing contraceptive needs, performing screening tests such as a pap smear and mammogram, and testing for infections if needed.
In addition to these, other important points you may want to bring up in your visit are hormonal issues, problems with sex, digestive problems, overall nutritional balance and health practices, preparing for pregnancy before you get pregnant, and preparing for a smooth transition through peri-menopause and menopause, just to name a few!
Some suggestions for my patients:
1) Your menstrual cycle can be a barometer for your health. Don’t ignore irregular cycles, as they can be the first predictor of problems down the road with your thyroid, hormones, insulin levels, and fertility. Avoid taking a birth control pill to force your cycle into regularity without understanding WHY it is irregular in the first place!
2) Most women wait until getting pregnant to think about how to care for the body during pregnancy. At a minimum, we should be preparing at least 3 months prior to getting pregnant. For many women, there are important nutritional, hormonal, environmental, and genetic issues to address to maximize the chances of a healthy pregnancy. This preparation goes way beyond just taking a prenatal vitamin.
3) Make sure you know ALL of your contraceptive options – there is so much more out there than just the pill, including non-hormonal methods with a unique set of benefits.
4) Pap tests screen for HPV and changes in the cervical cells that can lead to cervical cancer. When abnormal, in addition to monitoring the cervix with more frequent paps, colposcopy, and biopsies, there are also important nutritional and environmental changes to make to maximize your immune system’s ability to get rid of HPV.
5) We all know about screening for breast cancer with mammograms, but don’t forget about the impact of nutrition, a healthy body weight, hormone balance, genetic screening, and environmental exposures on lifelong breast health. Think prevention over detection!
6) Always feel comfortable talking about concerns regarding your hormones, pain with sex, low interest in sex, problems with your partner, mood changes, and really anything that is bothering you – I want to hear it! Sometimes it is hard to bring up a topic you may feel self-conscious about, but don’t wait until the end of the visit to mention it. I want to listen and give enough time for discussion. I promise you are not alone.
7) As women, our bodies are incredibly complex and change so much through each decade and phase of our lives. Everything is connected! Any difficulty is best addressed through a whole body approach and root cause analysis rather than treating symptoms in isolation. Just suppressing symptoms may improve the way you feel in the short term, but eventually may lead to taking more and more medications, without providing health and balance.
8) Surgery is a big deal and historically a treatment of last resort. All surgeons (myself included) are happy to treat conditions with surgery, but make sure you really understand all of your alternative options. Often a surgery can be avoided, preventing possible complications for you down the road.