What's your first go-to when you have a medical problem? Probably Google, right? Particularly if it's embarrassing or intimate, many of us seem to have an aversion to going beyond WebMD when it comes to asking doctors the hard questions about our health. But as a grown-ass woman, you need to take charge of your medical reality with your doctor, including investigating your test options, what your family history means for your future, how your medications have been tested, and other bits of information your doctor can give you. Yep, in person. It's not just about taking responsibility — being willing to ask the right questions could have genuine health consequences for you down the line.
As somebody with bad social anxiety disorder, I know how fraught it can be to push issues with a doctor. Remember: you have the right to choose the doctor you see. Want a woman? Somebody young? Somebody with so many degrees they have no wall space left? Find a person who's both competent and makes you comfortable, and see a gynecologist or contraceptive health expert if you'd prefer their opinion to a general practitioner's. You can even take a list of queries with you, or a friend, if you're inclined to get tongue-tied.
Here are eight questions you should ask your doctor, because you're a grown-ass lady and you're in charge of your own body.
1. How Do I Do A Proper Home Breast Examination?
We're all told that we need to do frequent home breast checks to make sure lumps and anomalies are caught early, but we're very rarely given a walk-through. Did you know there are multiple steps, including checking them while lying down? There are guides online, but if you're comfortable, it can be really handy having an expert walk you through it, giving you tips on what to look or feel for. While you're there, check when you should schedule your next mammogram and cervical smear. You've got to keep on top of this stuff.
2. I Have A Family History Of [X]; What Should I Watch Out For?
Now is the time to bring your family history to the table. Diabetes, cancers, arthritis, heart problems, high cholesterol, glaucoma: there's a whole collection of diseases whose occurrence in your family tree may mean you're more susceptible to them. Just knowing that isn't enough, though. Once you've obtained a family history, get a doctor to let you know what signs you should be aware of, and whether you should be concerned about anything in particular.
It doesn't have to be exclusively family history, either; environment matters too. If you come from an extremely sunny region where melanoma cancer is common, for example, let them know so you can be aware of specific symptoms (misshapen moles, for instance).
3. My Vaginal Discharge Seems Weird Lately — Can You Take A Look?
Many women feel a bit off about discussing vaginal discharge or "down-there" business with doctors, but they shouldn't. Discharge can tell you many things about your reproductive system and its health, from the possession of an STD to an infection. It's always worth getting a professional opinion if something seems, in your opinion, off or abnormal. Trust me, they've seen it all.
4. Should I Have The Predictive Cancer Risk Gene Test?
Predictive cancer risk gene tests look for gene variants in your genetic code that indicate you have a higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. They garnered a lot of attention after Angelina Jolie took them, but they're not right for all women.
The predictive cancer risk gene test is only usually recommended for people with a strong family history of ovarian, colorectal, breast or prostate cancer, and it's not an absolute answer: some tests come back inconclusive. Discuss the costs and benefits with your doctor if you've got a family history or feel you should be concerned.
5. Has This Medication Been Tested On Women?
I've written about this one before: medications have, in the past, often come onto the market without being tested on any female subjects whatsoever, and even though drug companies are supposed to do gender-equal testing nowadays, it's a hard rule to enforce. This has real implications for whether the medication is going to be fully effective for your specific circumstances.
Before you take any new medications, ask your doctor about its testing history, whether the dosage is right for your gender and weight, and whether there have been any known side effects for women. (Asking about side effects generally should be a part of every conversation about medication, but this one is important to include.)
6. Should I Be Taking A Daily Baby Aspirin?
Daily baby aspirin was touted as a good preventative heart-health habit for adult women between 45 and 65, but in recent years it's been called into question. Aspirin daily dosage is normally prescribed to adults who have a risk of heart disease, because of aspirin's interference with blood's clotting capability. But regular aspirin dosage in women specifically has been shown to raise the risk of bleeding in the gut. It's a complicated question, and you should have a conversation with your doctor about your own cardiovascular family history and any heart events you've had in the past.
7. What Birth Control Is Right For My Situation?
The range of options available on the current market means that women have a lot of choice, but it also means a bit of experimentation may be necessary before they get the right balance of low side effects, proper protection, and ease of use. Doctors will likely have recommendations based on your sensitivity to estrogen, your fertility needs and current relationship status, your schedule, and other considerations.
8. How Often Should I Get Tested For STDs If I'm In A Relationship?
The STD question is a bit more fraught. Many women assume that being in a monogamous relationship means an end to the need for STD tests, but, sadly, a 2015 study of 556 people, half in monogamous relationships and half in sexually open ones, found that both groups had exactly the same rate of STDs. If infidelity has ever been a problem in your relationship, or if either of you has had an STD in the past, a doctor will probably recommend a test, but they may also tell you to get one anyway, just in case.