12 Things Your Gyno Wants You to Stop Doing
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12 Things Your Gyno Wants You to Stop Doing

Skipping annual appointments, self-treating symptoms and other gyno no-nos.

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By Olivia DeLong 

You’re probably pretty picky when it comes to choosing your gynecologist. You want your gyno to be approachable, attentive and knowledgeable. After all, she might be the same doctor who will guide you through pregnancy—and maybe even delivery—not to mention menopause, your sexual health and more.

But this might come as a surprise: your gyno has a wish list of her own for you.

From skipping your annual visit to withholding your family’s medical history, Elizabeth Newell, MD, an OBGYN with Swedish Medical Center in Littleton, Colorado reveals all of the things your gyno wishes you’d stop doing.

Douching on the reg

2 / 13 Douching on the reg

Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven—it naturally regulates healthy bacteria that help protect it from infections and irritations. Douching, a practice that involves squirting a mixture of fluids like water and vinegar up the vagina, can actually encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Yet almost one in five women between the ages of 15 and 44 douche.

The risks may actually be pretty serious. If you already have a vaginal infection, douching may push the bacteria to other areas like your uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries. Bacteria in these areas could lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of your reproductive organs.

If you’re pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, douching can up the risk of preterm birth or ectopic pregnancy, which is a fertilized egg that’s grown somewhere outside of the uterus, most commonly in a fallopian tube. Douching may also increase one’s susceptibility to contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Excessive douching may also lead to vaginal irritation and dryness.

In addition to pelvic inflammatory disease, Newell notes that douching can also put you at risk for bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Your vagina naturally makes mucous to clean away any blood, semen or discharge, so as long as you’re taking regular showers or baths with warm water, your vagina will clean itself.

Skipping your annual appointment

3 / 13 Skipping your annual appointment

Most women aren’t required to get a Pap smear or cervical cancer screening annually, but you should see your gyno every year anyway, says Newell.

Annual checkups—which may or may not include a pelvic exam—are helpful because you and your gynecologist can discuss sexual activity, vaccinations, periods and fertility plans. “We’re doing a lot more genetic screening for certain cancers like Lynch syndrome, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer,” adds Newell. Your gynecologist will also want to discuss any changes to your family history and how to adopt healthy habits as you age, including getting regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet.

When it comes to cervical cancer screening, women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap smear every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap smear and an HPV test together or even just an HPV test alone, every five years. And if any out of the ordinary symptoms—like heavier-than-normal menstrual bleeding, pain, dizziness or unexplained discharge—come up between appointments, your gynecologist will want to see you then, too.

Thinking they care that you shave

4 / 13 Thinking they care that you shave

If you’re worried that your gyno is judging you because you shave your legs or vagina—or because you don’t—you shouldn’t be. “We don’t care if people shave their vagina or their legs,” says Newell. “We see all sorts of things all day long, so it doesn’t matter to us.”

If you do shave your pubic hairs, that’s okay, but if you’re having razor burn or bumps, Newell recommends trimming or waxing instead. “Shaving does put you at a higher risk of the infection folliculitis and blisters,” she says.

Practice good hygiene if you do decide to shave: soak your skin in warm water for five minutes prior to shaving, use shaving cream or gel, shave in the direction that the hair grows and make sure to use unscented lotion to soothe the area afterwards. If your razor becomes rusty or dull, make sure to replace it.

Believing you’ll always have symptoms if you have a STI

5 / 13 Believing you’ll always have symptoms if you have a STI

Most sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes have very mild symptoms like abnormal vaginal discharge or pain when urinating, or no symptoms at all.

“I have a lot of patients who come in and say they’ve been with a new partner or two in the last year, but they don’t come in to get tested because they haven’t had any problems or symptoms,” says Newell. Don’t assume you’re STI-free just because you think you’re symptom-free. If STIs go undetected, they could potentially lead to infertility issues or even cervical cancer down the road.

Symptoms or no symptoms, if you’re sexually active with a new partner, let your gyno know so you can get tested, says Newell. STI screenings usually involve a pelvic or physical exam, blood work, urine test or fluid or tissue sample.

Self-treating

6 / 13 Self-treating

Googling symptoms like itching, frequent urination or funky discharge is okay, and most likely those symptoms point to something treatable like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection. But after consulting Dr. Google, head to the lady doctor for confirmation.

There are a lot of other health conditions that have the same symptoms as a yeast infection and if you take the wrong over-the-counter medication, it may not work, says Newell. And some of the most common symptoms of a UTI are frequent or painful urination and cloudy urine. These two symptoms could also indicate you have kidney stones or ovarian cysts, too.

So, next time you experience unusual symptoms, schedule a doctor’s appointment—and be prepared to provide a sample—so a professional can properly treat your issue.

Cancelling your appointment because you’re on your period

7 / 13 Cancelling your appointment because you’re on your period

Women, rejoice! You don’t have to cancel your gyno appointment just because your period started that day, says Newell. “We still want women to come in,” she says. “We can still get a pretty good sample during the Pap smear even when you’re on your period.” In fact, she says it’s rare that your doc won’t be able to get a proper sample.

And if you think your gynecologist cares about the extra mess, they don’t. “We’re used to people being on their periods or having spotting,” Newell promises.

While you can go in when you’re on your period, if you’re tracking your period and it’s pretty regular, it can still be helpful to schedule your annual appointment 10 to 20 days after your period starts. Nowadays, there are lots of ways to track your menstrual cycle using apps on your phone or computer.

Withholding medical or genetic history

8 / 13 Withholding medical or genetic history

Your gyno needs to know your personal and family medical history because certain conditions like cancer can impact your screening timelines.

“New cancers in the family or someone in the family passing away from a heart attack are good things for us to know,” says Newell. Your gynecologist will use your family history to make recommendations about screening for things like heart disease, uterine cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer.

Consider making a family medical tree and giving it to all of your doctors. You’ll want to include date of birth, date of death (if applicable) and any medical conditions or surgeries your family member has had. It can be helpful to include this info for your parents and siblings, of course, as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren. And if anything changes, keep your doctors updated as you have more info.

Getting upset when they’re running late

9 / 13 Getting upset when they’re running late

If your gyno is running behind schedule, consider this before you get upset: “Sometimes we have to give bad news to someone, spend time with someone who is critically ill or who just had a miscarriage or found out they’re pregnant,” says Newell. “That extra 30 minutes of comfort really helps them.” It can also help to think about how you might feel during one of these important life moments; extra time with your gynecologist would probably give you peace of mind. 

If you’ve been in the waiting room a long time, feel free to ask the nurse or front desk attendant for an update. Just  remember, there’s probably a good reason your doc is late.

Putting up with PMS symptoms

10 / 13 Putting up with PMS symptoms

It’s very common to experience a few physical or mental changes leading up to your period. But, if month after month, you’re experiencing symptoms that interfere with your daily activities, you may be experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some symptoms of PMS include, but are not limited to: 

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Food cravings
  • Bloating and weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Mild and moderate cases of PMS can usually be addressed with things like exercise, relaxation therapy and diet tweaks. Severe PMS symptoms, however, may require medications such as antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or diuretics, otherwise known as “water pills.”

You should always talk to your doctor about any symptoms you have related to your period. She can assess those symptoms and suggest treatment options that may give you some relief. In some cases, certain symptoms like severe cramping—appearing in combination with spotting between periods, infertility or stomach issues—could indicate more serious health conditions such as endometriosis. These would require additional testing or treatment.

Applying scented soaps and other products

11 / 13 Applying scented soaps and other products

Don’t worry—you can still wind down with a bath after a long day at work, but you should choose your products wisely.

When it comes to products you’re using around your vaginal area, those that are scented can up your risk of yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. When choosing tampons, pads, soaps, powders and sprays, opt for unscented ones. And when it comes to cleaning your vaginal area in the bath or shower, warm water works just fine, and a little bit of mild soap is okay for some women, too. If you have sensitive skin, though, steer clear of even mild soaps; they can dry out or irritate the area.

Being afraid to ask questions about sex or sexuality

12 / 13 Being afraid to ask questions about sex or sexuality

“I think patients either forget to ask questions or they’re too embarrassed to ask them,” says Newell. Gynecologists talk about sexual health issues all day long, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about painful sex, period cramps, anal intercourse and other sexual habits.

Gynecologists are comfortable talking about sexuality, too. “We want our offices to be safe spaces for people, places where they feel like they’re accepted,” says Newell. If your sexual preferences change, your gyno understands that, too.

Being reluctant any other questions, for that matter

13 / 13 Being reluctant any other questions, for that matter

Remember that your gyno has probably seen—and heard—pretty much everything. So don’t be afraid to discuss anything related to your reproductive and sexual organs.

From starting a family, to the importance of Kegels, to strange vaginal symptoms like itching, acne and discharge, nothing is off limits. It can help to make note of any symptoms or questions you have in the weeks leading up to your visit so you feel prepared and won’t forget anything. To make things easy, here’s a rundown of some of the key topics you can think about:

  • Vaginal symptoms such as irregular bleeding or spotting, itching, odor or discharge
  • Sexuality, sexual concerns or STIs
  • Birth control, fertility and plans for pregnancy
  • PMS, perimenopause and menopause
  • Breast self-awareness
  • Tobacco, alcohol or other drug useExercise, dietary recommendations and sleep issues
  • Health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and family health history

Your gynecologist is there to help you through various stages of your life, often from your teenage years through menopause and beyond. Remember that being open and honest with them will only strengthen that partnership—and improve your health.

Gynecology

Gynecology

There are many key areas in the field of female reproductive system health, including menstruation, pregnancy, fertility, and menopause. As a woman, you may be concerned about other issues related to your sexual health, including ...

genital problems and sexually transmitted diseases. If you are a female that is sexually active, or over the age of 18, it is important to begin seeing a womans' health specialist in order to make sure that your reproductive system stays healthy. Before that, any concerns with menstruation should be addressed with a physician. As you get older, most women become concerned with issues pertaining to avoiding or achieving pregnancy, until menopause begins around age 50.
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