Many women have anxiety when it’s time to go to the gynecologist. It’s not a particularly fun experience, after all, but it’s an important one when it comes to long-term health.
“Annual exams, pap smears and mammograms are the most important things women can do for their health,” says Dr. Robert Yates, an OB/GYN and corporate medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee in Memphis. “Everybody gets anxious, but if you know what to expect and what you need out of your visit — medication, answers or just peace of mind — we can alleviate that anxiety and get you taken care of.”
Here are 7 things to keep in mind before your next appointment:
1. Explore your options.
Everybody moves around, so don’t worry if you need to switch gynecologists several times over the course of your life. It’s important to find a good match — someone you can be honest with — so make a change if you don’t have a good rapport with someone. And feel free to explore both male and female providers.
2. Write your questions down.
Ask yourself if there’s anything else you’ve wondered about since your last appointment.
- Do you need birth control?
- Have your periods been painful?
- How is your sex drive?
Write questions down so you don’t forget, and don’t be embarrassed by anything you’re curious about. No question is off limits — and most of the time, your doctor has answered it before.
3. Talk about mental and sexual health openly.
“Because it’s a private setting, gynecological visits are a great opportunity for women who are having sexual or mental problems or who are struggling with abuse to reach out,” says Dr. Yates. “Your doctor is your confidante. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”
4. Know the basics of an exam.
Most pelvic exams take about 10 minutes. They include basic questions, vital signs, a breast exam and a pelvic exam, which includes a pap smear to test for cervical cancer. If you haven’t been to the gynecologist before, or if it’s been a while, familiarize yourself with the basics here.
5. Ask if you need an exam.
For minor requests, you won’t necessarily need a pelvic exam, so be sure to ask.
“For a long time you had to have an exam to get birth control pills, but many doctors no longer require that, especially for young girls,” says Dr. Yates. “If that’s the main reason for your visit, ask about that when you make the appointment.”
6. Ask about STD and HIV screenings.
Screening practices for sexually transmitted diseases vary, so ask whether STD testing is going to be done. Most places also test for HIV separately, and only upon request, so ask for that if you need it. If you’re sexually active and you’ve never been tested, or if you haven’t been tested in a while, go ahead and get tested.
7. Do your research.
Since most exam visits last only 10 minutes, a little preparation goes a long way. Dr. Yates suggests bringing 2 lists to every doctor’s appointment:
- Medications, especially blood thinners, aspirin, vitamins and other over-the-counter medications
- Medical history, including family history, especially of breast cancer or female organ cancers(cervical, uterine)
“It’s hard to remember everything on the spot,” he says. “If you keep a running list of your medical history and medications, you can print it out or pull it up every time you go to their doctor. That will give you more time to talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns.”
To learn how to create a family medical history, click here.
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