As a woman, taking care of your body is very important no matter what age you are. From getting your first period to going through menopause, the health changes that occur starting during your teenage years through adulthood are significant. Depending on how old you are or where you are in your personal health journey, you may have some questions about your health which your OB/ GYN can help answer. But what questions should you ask when, and is there anything that you’re forgetting?
Below are some of the most common questions we’re asked as women’s health professionals. These questions are normal and should be integrated into your annual conversations with your OB/GYN during annual check-ups or well-woman visits. Hopefully, these will give you a head start in terms of thinking about your next appointment and the topics you want to cover with your doctor.
What topics should I discuss with my OB/GYN?
Feel free to discuss anything that’s on your mind. Do not be embarrassed! We often talk about cramps, problems with your menstrual cycle, acne, weight, depression, sex, sexuality, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as alcohol, drugs and smoking.
What is a pelvic exam? And what is a Pap smear test?
The pelvic exam has three parts, which are looking at the vulva, looking at the vagina and cervix with a speculum, and checking the uterus and ovaries with a gloved hand. At age 21, a Pap smear will be performed. A Pap smear checks for abnormal changes in the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer. Your doctor will use a small brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix.
Can I still have my pelvic exam and Pap smear when I am on my cycle?
You should try to schedule your annual exam when you are not on your cycle. Large amounts of blood can interfere with the reading of the Pap smear which would require a return visit for repeat testing. However, you can have your pelvic exam and Pap smear during your cycle if the flow is not heavy.
What is bacterial vaginosis (BV)?
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria that normally live in your vagina. The main symptoms are an increase in vaginal discharge and a “fishy” odor. Itchiness is not common but may occur. Bacterial vaginosis can be easily treated with antibiotics that can be taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina as a cream or gel.
Do I need to have a pelvic exam to get birth control from my doctor?
A pelvic exam is generally not needed for most forms of birth control except for the intrauterine device (IUD) and diaphragm. However, if you are sexually active, your doctor will likely perform a pregnancy test and STD screening before prescribing birth control.
Are there benefits to taking birth control pills?
Yes. In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control pills help to shorten your menstrual cycle, reduce cramping and lighten the bleeding. Certain pills even help control acne.
What are the common side effects of birth control pills?
When beginning any birth control method, it is common to experience breakthrough bleeding during the first few months as your body adjusts to the change in hormone levels. It is a normal side effect. Stay calm, be patient and continue to take your birth control pills as prescribed. If the breakthrough bleeding continues beyond three months, consider visiting your doctor to discuss other birth control options.
Other common side effects include headache, breast tenderness, nausea, missed periods, weight gain (progestin-only pills) and anxiety or depression (progestin-only pills).
What are the different types of emergency contraception?
The progestin-only pill (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose) is available on pharmacy shelves without a prescription to anyone of any age.
Ulipristal is a pill or tablet that is available by prescription only.
Copper containing IUDs must be inserted by a physician, so call your doctor immediately if you choose this form of emergency contraception.
When should my daughter have her first gynecologic visit and what should she expect?
Girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15. The first visit is usually just a talk between the patient and their doctor. Common topics discussed include the menstrual cycle, sexual activity and contraception. You usually do not need to have a pelvic exam at your first visit unless you are having problems such as abnormal bleeding or pain. If you are sexually active, sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing may be done.
When should I get my first mammogram?
Women age 40 and older should have screening mammograms every year. However, the likelihood of developing breast cancer is higher if a close blood relative has been diagnosed with the disease, especially if they were diagnosed before the age of 50. If you believe you may be at a higher risk, ask your physician when you should start being examined.
Our team helps women of all ages stay healthy. Learn about the services we offer at Ochsner.