Health screenings, vaccinations, annual check-ups—there are many aspects of your healthcare that should be (and hopefully are) a part of your routine. Including your annual visit to your OB/GYN.
Your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) is specially trained to care for the female reproductive system and related health conditions. Not only are they your one-stop shop for all things related to women's health, but they're also an excellent resource for your health and wellness in general.
While you may already be a pro at keeping up with your annual OB/GYN appointments, it's also important to take full advantage of these visits. This starts with asking questions that promote communication between you and your provider.
Here are some questions you can ask your OB/GYN to keep the communication lines open and your health front and center.
1. Why is my period so painful?
"Menstrual periods have a bad reputation. And while it's true that menstruation can be an inconvenience and uncomfortable, it shouldn't be completely debilitating," says Stephanie Langsam, MD, an OB/GYN at Main Line Health. "Unfortunately, plenty of women chalk up their very painful periods to a fact of life, when there are effective ways to ease discomfort."
Painful periods are called dysmenorrhea. In addition to severe pain, this can cause:
If you think you might have dysmenorrhea, your OB/GYN can perform a pelvic exam and recommend medications to ease the pain. They can also suggest other ways to alleviate pain at home, such as applying heat and exercising.
2. I don't enjoy sex—what gives?
When it comes to sex, it's easy to assume that, whether or not you enjoy it, it's just the way it is. But if your sexual experiences are less enjoyable than you'd like them to be, you're not alone—roughly four in 10 women experience problems with sex in their lives at some point. What's more, your OB/GYN can help.
"It may be hard to have the courage to bring it up to your doctor, but we are here to listen to your concerns and help you achieve your goals when it comes to sex," says Dr. Langsam. "The office is a judgement free zone and a place you should feel comfortable discussing all sensitive topics."
Whether your concern is about arousal, pain or something else altogether, your OB/GYN can discuss ways to navigate these problems. These may include addressing possible causes of your concerns as well as different treatment options, like Kegels (exercises for your pelvic muscles), medication or pelvic floor physical therapy.
3. What vaccines do I need?
Vaccines are one of the most effective ways to stay healthy, and your OB/GYN is a valuable resource in understanding which ones you are due for. This can include general health vaccines, like the flu shot. It can also include vaccines related to your sexual wellness, like the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine protects you from some kinds of cancer later in life, such as cancers of the cervix, vagina and back of the throat. It's recommended for children ages 11 to 12, but it can be given up to age 26 if you haven't been vaccinated. As for adults ages 27 to 45 years, there may be benefits of vaccination based on your individual risk for new HPV infections.
4. How can I practice safe sex?
Your grade school health class may have gone over the use of condoms and birth control, but there's much more to safe sex.
"Every woman's situation is unique, and your needs and circumstances will determine the best way to practice safe sex," says Dr. Langsam.
Your OB/GYN can review your options for safe sex, such as the barrier method (like condoms and dental dams) and regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STDs). They can also discuss how to have safer sex if you find out you do have an STD.
5. Would I benefit from BRCA genetic testing?
While your parents may have passed down your eye color or aptitude for science, they may have also given you genes that increase your risk of developing cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate and pancreas. These genes are called the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
The BRCA, which looks for changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes, can help determine if you have an increased risk of these cancers. It's a simple test that uses a sample of your blood, saliva or cells inside your cheek to detect genetic variants.
BRCA genetic variants are rare, affecting only .2% of people in the US, so testing isn't recommended for everyone. Your OB/GYN can help determine if you would benefit from BRCA genetic testing.
6. What should I expect when menopause begins?
Being a woman comes with many changes, one of the major ones being menopause. Menopause is considered 12 months after your last menstrual period.
"In addition to no monthly cycle, it also comes with symptoms like hot flashes, incontinence (loss of bladder control), mood fluctuations and sexual changes," says Dr. Langsam.
When you approach menopause, you're not alone in navigating these symptoms. Your OB/GYN can help you prepare for what to expect as well as find ways to make the transition more comfortable.
You and your OB/GYN: The dream team for health and wellness
Taking care of your health is a team effort, and you and your OB/GYN are star players. From women's health to general wellness, your OB/GYN is a great resource to help you to take charge of your well-being.
Whether you come prepared with these or your own, asking questions will help you keep communication lines open now and for years to come.
Make an appointment with Stephanie Langsam, MD
Learn more about OB/GYN care at Main Line Health
You don't have to live with pelvic floor disorders
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