Get the Most From a Doc Visit
At least once a day a patient apologizes to me for not having shaved her legs or gotten a pedicure before climbing into the stirrups. Along with worrying that I’ll find some dread disease, patients think
I’m judging their hairy legs or chipped toe polish. It reminds me: While it’s a very routine exam for me, it’s anything but routine for the patient.
You can quit worrying. As a gynecologist, my only expectation is basic hygiene—a shower or bath during the previous 24 hours is appreciated. Beyond that, here are truths about three other issues that come up for women about goin’ to the gyno.
You can be examined even if you’re bleeding
You scheduled your annual gynecologic exam four months in advance and told your boss you needed the morning off— but now your period has arrived three days early. Do you need to reschedule? In general, no: A Pap test can be done unless bleeding is really heavy. The use of lubricant prior to a Pap is actually a much more common reason for an unsatisfactory result. And if your bleeding is unscheduled or abnormal, it’s beneficial for your gynecologist to be able to see where it’s coming from. There are exceptions, but if in doubt, ask; don’t assume you have to cancel.
Getting weighed is not required
Some women prefer not to be weighed because they don’t want to get lectured—and they might skip a doctor visit just to avoid that. It is frustrating when a doctor is so focused on your weight that your other concerns aren’t addressed. But this isn’t the Army; no one is going to force you to do anything. An accurate weight is valuable for ID’ing medical problems, but
it’s much better to come and skip the weigh-in than not to come at all.
Your best bet for avoiding a discussion about your weight? Start with “I know I need to lose weight, but since we have a limited amount of time, I’d prefer to talk about my other health concerns today.” Then whip out your list and go for it.
If a patient declines to be weighed, I’ll ask for a ballpark figure. You also can ask to be weighed “backward,” facing away from the scale. Reasons we will need your weight: Pregnancy, certain medications, and surgery require an accurate weight. You do want to get the right amount of anesthesia, don’t you?
You need a pelvic exam even if it’s not a Pap test year
Women across the country celebrated when it was decided that a Pap test was no longer required every year (for lowrisk women), which made it seem that they could skip the annual visit to the gynecologist. I hate to burst your celebratory balloons, but a Pap test screens only for cervical cancer. It’s not a screen for uterine, ovarian, vulvar, or vaginal cancer or for incontinence, fibroids, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic organ prolapse, hormonal changes, or ovarian cysts. A Pap test does not screen for sexual problems or provide contraception.
In other words, if you are the proud owner of a vagina, vulva, cervix, uterus, or ovaries, you benefit from a gynecologic exam every year even if you don’t need a Pap test. So get ready for those stirrups, and take care of your health!