by Sarah Jio
Do you ever feel shy about talking to your doctor about certain things? Whether it's an embarrassing concern, question or confession, it's important to say what's on your mind and what's been going on with your body when you're in the exam room. Here are nine questions you should never feel nervous about asking your gynecologist:
1. "Why does sex hurt?"9 Things You Should Ask Your Gynecologist
While not every woman will experience pain during intercourse, it affects as many as 15 percent of women at various points in their lives, says Debby Herbenick, PhD, author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. "All too often, women think that pain is 'normal,' or something they should grin and bear," she says. "But they don't have to. Genital pain can often be treated." If you're experiencing pain during intercourse, speak up! Your doctor can help you find a treatment plan that's right for you, possibly refer you to a specialist and connect you to helpful resources like the National Vulvodynia Association, a group that specializes in vaginal pain.
2. "Why does it itch…down there?"
Vaginal itching can be embarrassing and troubling. "Women often think they have a yeast infection when they really don't and then they end up spending money on yeast medications that may make their problem worse," explains Dr. Herbenick. "In fact, itching can also be a sign of a sexually transmissible infection, a vulvar skin disorder, a bacterial infection, a sensitivity to laundry soap or, in rare cases, an early sign of vulvar cancer." Bottom line: If you're experiencing vaginal itching, don't hide it from your doctor. "Itching should always be brought to a healthcare provider's attention."
3. "I'm concerned about my vaginal odor-is it a sign of an infection or STD?"
Concerns about vaginal odor are very common, says Dr. Herbenick, so don't feel like you're the first woman in the history of the world to worry about it. "Often, the scent is totally normal," she says, "and your gynecologist can reassure you of this so you can feel comfortable and confident with your body." But if you're concerned that something is wrong, especially if a perceived odor coincides with other symptoms, like excessive discharge or burning and itching, your gynecologist needs to know. "It may reflect a bacterial imbalance or an infection that can be treated."
4. "Why do I sometimes leak urine?"
Urinary incontinence affects many women-of all ages-says Keehn Hosier, MD, an ob-gyn who practices at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, but it's most common for pre- and post-menopausal women, especially those who have had children. The condition can be embarrassing and socially isolating, and, he says, many are afraid to talk about it. "Women shouldn't have to suffer in silence about something like this," says Dr. Hosier. "It's something that's often treatable. There are many ways to treat the symptoms, ranging from weight-loss, bladder training, medication, implant devices or even surgery."
5. "I'm concerned that my boyfriend/husband/partner is cheating. Should I be tested for a sexually transmitted disease?" Or "I had an affair. Should I get an STD test?"
Whether you're concerned about the consequences of his unfaithfulness or yours, it can feel embarrassing to bring it up with your gynecologist. But she's the first person you should talk to, say experts. Ask your doctor about getting a comprehensive sexually transmitted disease test, says Dr. Hosier. Not only will it ease your mind, but it could save your life. "If you have even the slightest concern, it's always better to have it checked out," he says. "We're diagnosing many more cases of STDs in older women because of the increased use of erectile dysfunction medications."
6. "Why am I having hot flashes-could it be menopause, or something else?"
According to Robert Gallo, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and past president of the New Jersey Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, many women keep quiet about their hot flashes because they assume it's a normal and natural symptom of aging and menopause. But here's some new thinking: Dr. Gallo encourages all women to tell their doctors about them. True, they may be a normal symptom of menopause, but they may also be a symptom of another health condition. "I can't tell you the number of times that a patient's hot flashes were a sign of a thyroid imbalance. The symptoms just may be related to premenopausal, menopausal or postmenopausal issues, but don't assume that they are." Thyroid conditions are often diagnosed with a simple blood test and easily treated with medication.
7. "The skin near my vagina appears to have changed color and texture-is this a problem?"
Being aware of the changes in your genital area is important, as is sharing them with your doctor, particularly if you notice changes in skin color or texture. "It could be an early warning sign of a benign vulvar skin disorder called lichen sclerosus," explains Dr. Herbenick. "If left untreated, it can cause thinning of the vulvar skin, which can lead to painful sex or tearing of the genital skin during sex. It can also cause severe itching or pain if left untreated. Fortunately, successful treatments are available, so early detection is key."
8. "Why do I have such painful periods?
"If you have severe pain and discomfort with your period each month, it could be a sign of many things, including a serious yet treatable health condition called endometriosis, which can cause excruciating pain and even infertility. According to data, endometriosis may affect millions of women in the United States, yet many cases go undiagnosed, says Tamer Seckin, MD, a laparoscopic surgeon and endometriosis specialist, and cofounder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America. The reason? Women fail to share their symptoms with their doctors. Women shouldn't assume that all menstrual pain is "normal," says Dr. Seckin, who urges women to discuss any and all symptoms to their doctor. "Endometriosis is treatable, even curable, if addressed early enough."
9. "With breast cancer in mind, how should I check my breasts?"
If you're confused about what you should be doing to detect and prevent breast cancer, join the club! There have been so many confusing messages for women in the last year, even the last month, says Lissa Rankin, MD, ob-gyn, author of the forthcoming book What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, and founder of OwningPink.com. It's why you should be asking your doctor this question and demanding a clear answer.
"The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force just changed the recommendations," Dr. Rankin explains. "They are now suggesting that doctors refrain from teaching self-breast exams and that women skip self-breast exams." Dr. Rankin says she has some concerns about this. "While the data to support breast self-exam as an effective screening tool demonstrates little benefit, we all know someone who has found her own breast cancer by examining her breast in the shower. If you're that one woman, aren't you glad your learned how to check your breasts? The way I see it, there's no harm. Some argue that breast self-exams increase anxiety and lead to unnecessary doctor's visits when patients find a 'lump' that doesn't really exist. But I'd much rather have a woman come in to double-check a nonexistent lump than miss a breast cancer."
Sarah Jio is the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com. Visit her blog, Vitamin G.Related Articles at WomansDay.com:
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