Women are often the healthcare decision-makers for themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, they’re also less likely to seek care for themselves if and when they need it. Going for routine doctor’s appointments and screenings might not seem like priorities, especially when your to-do list is a mile long. But taking the time to do these things is what will allow you to take better care of those you love.
Appointments with your primary care provider are important. But for women—regardless of where they are in their life cycle—OB/GYN appointments are important, too. Annual appointments with your OB/GYN are an opportunity to review your medical history, medications and health questions or concerns. It’s also a time to make sure that you’re up to date on health screenings like Pap tests and mammograms.
It’s also an opportunity to get personal. By this, I mean going beyond general health concerns and having an open and honest conversation with your OB/GYN. It’s your chance to discuss:
- Family history – For many types of gynecologic cancers, family history is one of the most telling risk factors. A family history of breast, ovarian, colon or endometrial cancer, for example, could mean you are at a higher risk. An OB/GYN can help you decide if you need to begin cancer screenings earlier than the recommended age and help you develop a plan to manage this risk. You may also be referred to a genetic counselor to talk about further testing to guide future screenings.
- Sexual history – Even if you’ve been a patient of your OB/GYN for years, sexual health issues can be a taboo topic. But nothing is off the table during your visit with an OB/GYN. Don’t let embarrassment get in the way of talking about sexually transmitted diseases or infections, birth control, discomfort or pain during sex and other topics. Remember: your OB/GYN has been educated and trained to address issues like these, and he or she has probably heard your question or concern before. Speak up—it’s the best thing to do for your health.
- Family planning – Whether you’re just starting your family or you’re a family of four looking to keep growing, your OB/GYN can help give you advice for family planning. If you’re planning to become pregnant, make an appointment for a pre-conception visit so you can make sure you’re in good health before you begin your pregnancy journey. Alternatively, if you’re finished having children and have questions about how to prevent pregnancy going forward, your OB/GYN can make recommendations for long-term birth control.
OB/GYNs are there when your pregnancy journey isn’t going as you’d hoped, too. if you’re having difficulty conceiving, talk to your OB/GYN about your options for fertility treatment.
It’s normal to feel a little shy when discussing such personal matters, but the best way to get the most out of your visit is by being open and honest. I ask my patients specific questions to help guide the conversation but encourage them to jump in with concerns – even if it’s something that doesn’t seem like a big deal. I also recommend bringing a thorough medical and family health history as well as a medication list. This gives your doctor enough background to make the best recommendations for your health situation.
An annual appointment is critical for good health but, if health issues come up during the year, don’t hesitate to make a separate appointment. Most women know they need to see their OB/GYN if they have a positive pregnancy test or need a contraceptive change. But sometimes there are other concerns you might dismiss, such as irregular periods, bloating, or breast pain. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your OB/GYN. You don’t have to live with discomfort – let us find a way to help.
Main Line Health encourages all women to get an annual exam to help optimize their health. Through our HealthyWoman Program, qualified participants receive a free mammogram, pelvic exam and Pap smear, and clinical breast exam. It’s our way of helping more women access the care they need to stay well today – and tomorrow.