#10: How do I perform a proper breast self-exam?
Many women don’t regularly examine their breasts and surrounding tissues for lumps, figuring they’ll wait until their next well woman check-up. Yet, the recommended frequency for pap smear tests has expanded in recent years from once a year to as seldom as once every three or five years, depending on a woman’s age. Five years (and even one year) is much too long to wait for a breast exam—this is why knowing how to perform a breast self-exam is so important. A good doctor will demonstrate how to do a self-exam, discuss any particular issues you might have (such as fibrocystic breast lumps), and guide you in what to feel for, specifically.
#9: Why is sex sometimes (or always) painful?
Many things can cause pain or discomfort during sex, including infections, insufficient lubrication (as a result of taking certain medications or from lack of foreplay), conditions like endometriosis, and thinning of the vaginal walls due to hormonal changes during menopause. If dryness is the problem, lubricants can help, but if painful or uncomfortable sex is bothering you, ask your gynecologist what may be causing the problem and what treatments are available.
#8: Do I need to do Kegel exercises?
In a word: yes. Women of every age benefit from pelvic floor (Kegel) exercise. A strong pelvic floor is especially important for pregnant women and those who expect to become pregnant, as these muscles help women push the baby out during delivery. The pelvic floor is part of the body’s core, and supports a woman’s uterus, bladder, and bowel. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can lead to a host of problems, from urinary incontinence (UI) to pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Ask your gynecologist what pelvic floor exercise regimen is right for you, and start doing Kegel exercises today with the innovative PeriCoach pelvic floor biofeedback device.
#7: Why do I leak urine when I laugh, cough, or sneeze?
This is a sure sign of UI (urinary incontinence), a common but underreported problem in women. There are several types of UI, including stress incontinence, wherein you lose a few drops or even a small stream of urine when straining. Urge incontinence is another type of UI; it comes on as a strong urge to urinate followed by a bladder spasm and a sudden loss of urine. Although UI is common, it’s not normal. Ask your doctor about treatments for UI, including at-home treatments such as pelvic floor exercises with an assistive Kegel exercise device like PeriCoach.
#6: What’s normal when it comes to vaginal discharge?
Clear or milky-looking discharge is completely normal and is not normally cause for concern. It’s part of your body’s regular “housekeeping” mechanism, helping to flush old cells from your system. Changes in discharge that don’t seem normal, however, such as an unusually high volume, or changes in color or odor could be signs of an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, Trichomoniasis, or a yeast infection. If you notice such changes, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
#5: Why do I feel pressure in my vagina and pelvis?
Feeling a bulge or pressure in the vagina and/or pelvis is a sign of possible pelvic organ prolapse. Prolapse occurs when an organ in the pelvis, such as the bladder, drops from its normal location and presses against the walls of the vagina. If you’ve given birth or you perform strenuous exercise, such as weightlifting or CrossFit, you may have a prolapse without realizing it. See your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of prolapse. The good news is that mild to moderate cases of prolapse which don’t require surgery can be corrected with Kegel exercises (with or without a pelvic floor exerciser).
#4: Are douches safe to use?
Vaginal discharge is your body’s natural “douche.” Over-the-counter douches and other feminine hygiene products can actually increase your risk for an infection by wiping out the good bacteria that keep bad bacteria in check. Douching can trigger an infection like bacterial vaginosis, which, ironically, can cause the foul smell you might have been trying to avoid in the first place. More alarmingly, a new study has revealed that women who douche are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer.1,2 As mentioned earlier, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ—doctors and health organizations urge women to avoid douching.3,4,5 If you feel you absolutely must douche to feel fresh, consult with your gynecologist first.
#3: Why are my periods so heavy?
Most of us have likely known at least one woman who is so negatively affected by her monthly visitor she has a difficult time getting through each day of her period. Perhaps you are that unfortunate woman. Since every woman’s period is different, it can be hard to know what is normal. Heavy bleeding that lasts more than a week and that necessitates you doubling up on pads/tampons and changing them every couple hours is called menorrhagia. Depending on your age, heavy bleeding can mean your body is getting ready for menopause. It could also signal uterine fibroids or another health condition. If you’re tired of dealing with heavy bleeding, or are concerned it may be caused by an underlying health problem, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
#2: What are my birth control options?
Not only has birth control liberated untold millions of women from near-constant concerns about unintended pregnancy, hormonal birth control options can also provide significant relief for women who experience heavy, painful, long-lasting periods. There have never been more birth control options than there are today, including implants, patches, pills, shots, sponges, vaginal rings, IUDs, condoms, and of course, abstinence.
#1: How often should I be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Left untreated, an STI can lead to serious health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and cancer. Think you don’t need STI testing if you’re married? Guess again. A person can have an STI for years or even decades without showing signs. For example, a staggering number of people across the planet have some form of HPV or herpes simplex virus and don’t know it.6,7 Discuss your sexual activity with your doctor and ask how frequently you should be tested for STIs.
What to Do Before Your Appointment
- Research: The Internet is a wondrous thing. It has endowed everyday people with access to information on virtually any topic, including medical information. By all means research your symptoms in advance, but remember that some modesty is in order. Don’t self-diagnose, and remember that, for all the legitimate information online, there’s an equal amount of misinformation. Nothing can replace the wisdom and experience of a doctor in the flesh.
- Write down your questions: Remember the “you” at the beginning of this article—the one who was sitting in the cold exam room and forgot all her questions once the doctor entered the exam room? There’s a simple solution to this problem. Write down your questions and bring them with you to your appointment!
- Give yourself a pep talk: Remind yourself that your doctor is a professional, and that no question is a silly one. It can be uncomfortable to talk about things like leaking urine and vaginal odor, but no woman should suffer or worry in silence, including you.