How to Get the Most out of Your Next Gynecologist Visit

October 4th 2015

Many women are advised to get regular pelvic exams to prevent cervical cancer and maintain good reproductive health. Going in for these exams, however, is known to often create nerve-wracking and uncomfortable moments for many women, as the process entails an invasive, sometimes painful vaginal inspection.

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The awkwardness of getting an annual pelvic exam is often depicted in pop culture as well. "Girls" creator Lena Dunham highlights some of the unpleasant aspects of exams in an early episode of her show:

Though exams may make certain women feel uneasy or even frightened, they are important for identifying health issues and sexually transmitted diseases (STDS), among other things, and many doctors ask women to come in for annual exams in order to get birth control prescription renewals or check IUDs.

ATTN: had a chance to ask Dr. Aparna Sridhar, an assistant professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, about how female patients can maximize their annual exams. It is important to schedule a visit once each year, and it's crucial to make the experience count. Here's what she had to say.

ATTN: What sort of important questions should patients be sure to ask during annual exams?

AS: Women should try to get the most out of annual examinations. It is a way to establish rapport with a physician who would understand their medical and family history well. Patients should review their past medical problems, surgeries they have had, their social habits and family history so that they can discuss these with their physician.

Women should list (preferably in a journal/ notepad) what concerns them (even if it does not actively change their lifestyle at that point in time). This could include physical or emotional concerns. Reproductive life plan is something that women in reproductive age should discuss with the physician. This includes discussion of if and when do they want to get pregnant and what are their goals. Last but not the least they should ask their physicians about the age appropriate screening tests and immunizations.

ATTN: What would you say to a patient who goes in for an annual less than recommended (i.e., not even once a year)?

AS: Prevention is better than cure. I think women should visit their physician at least once a year to screen for the most common health problems. Extensive research has been done to identify screening strategies to prevent some of the deadly diseases like cervical and breast cancer. Patients should take full advantage of these screening tests as well as immunizations.

ATTN: Do you think there's anything that gynecologists universally want their patients to know about annual exams?

AS: As a gynecologist, I always try to discuss with women about the most common problems they have in their age group. For example:

  • Adolescents: abnormal bleeding patterns and sexual activity (emphasis on sexually transmitted infection prevention and unintended pregnancy prevention
  • Reproductive age women: fertility, conception and or contraception (depending on their reproductive life plan)
  • Menopausal women: postmenopausal care and prevention of osteoporosis, etc.

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