Scoot down. A little more. A little more.
If you’ve visited your gynecologist, you’re familiar with these words spoken during the exam while your feet are in stirrups and the doctor wants you to move closer to the end of the examining table. A gynecological exam, while sometimes uncomfortable, isn’t typically painful, and the exam can catch unnoticed problems early on. It’s also a time for you to talk with your doctor about any concerns you have.
So why are we so reluctant to go for that annual visit?
Doctors estimate that almost half of all American women don’t visit their gynecologist annually. Women should start this yearly visit when they turn 21 to check the cervix, uterus and pelvic area, and ensure everything is in good working order. The Pap test can detect cancer, but also identify pre-cancerous cells that can be destroyed before turning into cancer. Since the 1940s, the death rate from cervical cancer has decreased 70 percent — a decrease attributable to the annual GYN visit.
Despite the logical reasons to visit, several reasons may prevent women from making that appointment.
The belief that the exam is unnecessary. Particularly if you also visit a family practice physician, you may feel that a GYN exam is unnecessary (assuming your family practice physician does not do one during your visit). But general exams may not specifically examine the reproductive organs, and, since issues in those areas are usually not visible, an official exam is the best way to detect problems.
Not having a trusted doctor. Finding a trusted doctor is essential. So your doctor can get an accurate view of your life and any health factors to consider, it is important that you are upfront about feeling uncomfortable. You should be able to ask any questions and feel respected. If this is not your experience, consider looking for a new doctor. Ask friends and family for referrals. Research doctors to see if you have anything in common and what their credentials are. Call the practice and describe what type of personality you’re looking for and ask who they recommend. Once you find a new doctor, schedule an initial visit to see how well you connect before you have to take off your clothes!
Dreading bad news. Whether it’s stepping on the scale and finding you weigh more than you’d prefer, that your blood pressure is high, or talking about that scary pain you’ve been having, we tend to avoid information we don’t like. But the worry is still there. A doctor’s visit can address your concerns, help you understand any issues and give you more options than just imagining the worst-case scenario.
The exam itself. Understood, the exam is not necessarily fun, but it’s usually quick. If you’re nervous or anxious, talk with your doctor beforehand. Ask your doctor to explain what the process is so you won’t be surprised. Yes, try to relax and take slow breaths. Consider scheduling a treat once the exam is over, as a reward for tackling a tough task. This will help your mind associate the exam with more than just a speculum.
The American Cancer Society has issued new recommendations on how often women need to get a Pap test for cervical cancer, saying that, depending on the person, the test may not be necessary every year.
Still, a GYN visit is more than a Pap test. It’s more than a pelvic exam. It’s an opportunity to talk with your doctor about you and any concerns you have about your period, contraception, sexual activity, pregnancy or menopause. It remains an important way to make sure your body is operating well and to identify any problems early on.
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At Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, the physicians recognize that each woman has unique healthcare needs. Our team of highly skilled professionals — with advanced training and specialization in women's healthcare — is here to address your individual needs and concerns. From well-woman care to obstetrics to minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, we are here to provide the caring and expert care you deserve.Learn more now