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Routine health maintenance is an important part of health care. It helps you reconnect with your doctor and talk about staying healthy. When a health issue arises, doctor visits are focused primarily on that health issue. A routine visit allows for time for everything else.
Common Reasons to Visit a Gynecologist
The following symptoms often stem from an underlying reproductive health problem that may trigger complications if not treated in time. Thus, it is important to visit a gynecologist before the condition turns serious.
1. Irregular periods
It can be normal to have one or two irregular periods a year, especially in times of stress or big life changes. It is also normal to have slight fluctuations in cycle length every month – for example, to expect a period every 28 to 30 days.
However, consistently irregular periods or no periods for long periods of time should be evaluated. The evaluation usually consists of blood work such as hormone levels and sometimes an ultrasound.
A common underlying cause of irregular periods is polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is associated with other health issues as well. (1) These things are important to uncover!
2. Urinary issues
The symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTI) include burning and pain and feeling the urge to urinate when the bladder is empty. UTIs are often simply treated with a course of antibiotics, but recurrent UTIs may require a bit more counseling to prevent.
When females have had a UTI in the past and the symptoms are exactly the same, a visit to the gynecologist may not be necessary. However, if the symptoms feel different or the person is unsure what could be causing the symptoms, an evaluation is a good idea.
Another urinary issue that is commonly seen is loss of bladder control, called incontinence. Even though this is a common problem, there are several potential treatment options and your doctor wants to know about it! Incontinence issues are sometimes treated by a gynecologist and sometimes by a urologist.
3. Abnormal vaginal discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge should absolutely be evaluated by a gynecologist. It may be an indication of a vaginal imbalance, a sexually transmitted infection, and a variety of other issues. Abnormal vaginal discharge can be hard to self-diagnose, so an exam is often indicated.
Sometimes females are concerned about abnormal vaginal discharge when it is simply a change in the vaginal discharge during different parts of the menstrual cycle. These fluctuations and changes can be better explained by a doctor and reassurance can be provided if exam results are normal.
Remember, it’s important to see the gynecologist when the symptoms are present. A description of what the symptoms were is not as helpful!
4. Irregular bleeding
Irregular bleeding, such as spotting between periods or bleeding after sex, is a common reason females visit the gynecologist.
Some reasons for bleeding between periods, called intermenstrual bleeding, are side effects of hormonal contraception (2) or small, benign growths of the uterus called polyps or fibroids. Knowing the underlying reason can help your doctor troubleshoot an annoying problem.
5. Unusually heavy periods
Heavy periods can result in anemia and pain and can affect daily routines such as work and exercise. Some reasons for abnormally heavy bleeding include fibroids or polyp, clotting or bleeding disorders, infections, medications, and even cancer. (3)
The underlying cause of the heavy bleeding and the severity of it should be investigated to know how best to treat the problem.
6. Lumps in the breast
A clinical breast exam is a normal part of a gynecologic annual exam. Women often see the gynecologist for lumps or pain in the breasts too.
These lumps can sometimes be the result of dense breast tissue called fibrocystic breast tissue. Other times, a noticeable rubbery ball-like mass may be noticed, and these are often benign growths called fibroadenomas.
Lumps are usually evaluated with a breast exam in the office and imaging, such as a mammogram or ultrasound. (4)
7. Vaginal odor
Vaginal odor is a common concern. It is often the result of a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). (5) However, the odor can be from other causes too – such as an STI, something stuck inside the vagina like a forgotten tampon, or body odor.
To be able to figure it out, an exam and some swabs or tests may be helpful.
8. Excessive sweating
It is very common for women to experience hot flashes and night sweats right before and during menopause, which is largely connected to the declining or fluctuating levels of estrogen in their body.
In fact, menopause is the leading cause of night sweats, which is marked by excessive perspiration during sleep when the body is in a complete state of rest. Profuse sweating in women despite little to no activity or environmental heat can also be a side effect of certain medications or a symptom of hormone problems (low testosterone levels), low blood sugar levels, and neurological disorders that can take a serious turn.
So, it is crucial that you get yourself medically evaluated by a gynecologist or a physician to determine the root cause of the abnormal sweating and seek treatment if needed.
What other common concerns warrant a visit to a gynecologist?
Other common reasons women see a gynecologist are vulvar or vaginal itching and irritation, painful sex, low libido (low sex drive), to discuss and manage birth control, abnormal pap smear evaluation and treatment, diagnosis and treatment of STIs, preconception and pregnancy planning, fertility discussion and evaluation, ovarian cysts, low abdominal or pelvic pain, a palpable mass or heaviness in the pelvis, fibroids, and menopause symptoms.
Are painful periods a point of concern?
It can be. It often depends on the severity of pain and how much it impacts a woman’s life. Sometimes painful periods are easily treated with medications and lifestyle changes, and sometimes painful periods are debilitating and medication after medication has failed. There is such a wide range here.
The bottom line is if you are bothered by the pain with a period, discuss it with your doctor for possible treatment options.
How many times should a female visit a gynecologist in a year?
It is recommended to have an annual exam every 1–2 years. On top of that, seeing a gynecologist for any of the issues discussed above is reasonable. This may mean a visit to the gynecologist is frequent or infrequent, depending on what’s going on with your health and wellness.
What precautions should be taken before visiting a gynecologist?
It is helpful to gather information before the visit. For example, if you are having irregular periods, a calendar of your last 6–12 months of periods can help evaluate a problem far better than simply saying “my periods are irregular but I don’t know how irregular.”
There is no need for other precautions. Gynecologists don’t care if you shave your legs, waxed your pubic hair, or painted your toenails! Come as you are.
Not every visit to a gynecologist has to include a pelvic exam! Some concerns do require an exam to complete the evaluation, but many don’t! If you’ve never had an exam before, let your doctor know. They may explain the process a bit more and that may make you feel more comfortable.
As with any doctor-patient relationship, establishing rapport and trust is key. If you aren’t happy with your doctor for whatever reason, it is very reasonable to switch or seek a second opinion.
Doctors also do not have their “feelings hurt” if you seek a second opinion. It can sometimes confirm their opinion, or it may provide the patient with a different approach or perspective. Either way, if you as a patient feel you would benefit from another doctor, I encourage it!