It's totally valid if speculums and stirrups make you a little nervous, but visiting the gynecologist doesn't have to be an anxiety-inducing experience. There's a whole checklist of things you can do to prepare for an OB/GYN appointment that will help you reduce your fear and better care for yourself. Since you'll likely be seeing an OB/GYN for the rest of your life, you might as well get the hang of it now.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a yearly visit to your OB/GYN, which usually consist of a general exam and a variety of tests, according to your age and lifestyle. Common conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) often go undiagnosed and need medical intervention, but women who feel well also need to visit the doctor. "The annual gynecologic exam is intended to promote women’s health throughout their lifetime," Dr. Marcy Maguire, MD, FACOG, and fertility specialist in Progyny’s Provider Network, tells Bustle. [So bust those myths and get your best lab coat look ready.]
It may be scary to self-advocate when it comes to taboo topics like sexual wellness, but when it comes to the OB/GYN's office, no one knows it better than OB/GYNs themselves. So, to help, here are some tips and tricks from OB/GYNs themselves about how to make the most out of your next appointment.
Here are nine sure-fire ways to prepare for an OB/GYN visit like an OB/GYN.
1Find The Right Provider
As of 2009, according to ACOG, there were 42,855 OB/GYN specialists in the United States. And even if you don't find the right fit immediately, there is a health provider out there for you who you will trust. "You need to feel comfortable with this individual," Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, Clinical Professor of OB/GYN at Yale University, tells Bustle. "If you're not comfortable find another provider."
When it comes to choosing your provider, the gender is irrelevant, Minkin says, and there are plenty of wonderful male OB/GYNs, nurses, and midwives that can be well-suited for your healthcare needs. What matters is the person provides you with the care you need in a way you are comfortable with.
2Know What Tests To Expect
ACOG recommends a number of different screenings and evaluations based on your age and lifestyle, so it's good to know what those are and what to expect before seeing a new doctor. "OB/GYNs perform a number of important screening tests," Maguire tells Bustle. "These tests, including breast examinations and pap smears, are not always comfortable, but they may save your life."
Beyond pelvic exams, STI screenings, and pap smears, Minkin says that there's other important things to be monitored, like medications and blood levels. "I always counsel on routine health screenings — does she need a blood sugar checked, when was her last cholesterol screening?"
You may also be asked about your future plans and your mood. "Your gynecologist may also ask questions regarding your contraceptive or fertility plans." Dr. Marie Werner, fertility specialist in Progyny’s Provider Network, tells Bustle. "Don’t be surprised if your doctor asks more personal questions about your safety at home or screens for feelings of sadness or depression," Werner says. Your health is about more than just physical wellness, after all, and these questions are meant to help with your overall wellbeing.
3Be Open And Honest
It's uncomfortable sitting there waiting for your doctor to coax information out of you, but luckily there are ways to keep that from happening. One of the keys to a happy and comfortable OB/GYN visit is to be open and honest, and to volunteer any relevant information to your doctor. "Don’t be afraid to tell your OB/GYN anything. Believe me, gynecologists treat many different people with a variety of different experiences and symptoms. Being honest and upfront is the best way to enable you doctor to help you," Maguire says.
"There isn't anything we haven't heard!" Minkin says. "Patients who are totally honest regarding their symptoms are the most likely to be accurately diagnosed and treated."
Unsure what the doctor needs to know? "Your doctor will likely ask you if you are sexually active, and this is your opportunity to volunteer more information," says Werner. "Relevant facts to share would include the number of sexual partners, concerning symptoms or a history of pelvic infections."
It's OK to feel sensitive about these topics, but it's what your provider does for a living. A good OB/GYN or healthcare provider will never judge or shame you for your questions or concerns. Try being as open as you can for both the best medical care possible, and if your healthcare provider makes you feel judged or uncomfortable in any way, it may be time to find someone new.
4Do Your Research
Turns out, doctor's aren't totally turned off by all your web sleuthing. Some prior internet research can actually come in quite handy. Of course you shouldn't be diagnosing yourself or assuming the worst beforehand, but it's always a good idea to come in with some info about your symptoms. "Some of my patients research their symptoms online prior to their visit," Maguire says. "This can be quite helpful when patients surf reputable websites that help them to better understand their condition." Just make sure you're looking at good sites, like Mayo Clinic and Planned Parenthood, for example. "By contrast, internet searches of non-medical sites and social media postings can be confusing and lead to unnecessary worry," Maguire says.
5Make Your Appointments A Priority
It's tempting to forgo an appointment if you feel like nothing's wrong, but Maguire says actually, consistently scheduling and showing up to OB/GYN appointments is the key to effective care. "Patients who prioritize getting to their annual visits receive all of the recommended screening tests and therefore receive the most thorough care," Maguire says.
Only needing to see an OB/GYN when you're pregnant is a myth, Maguire says. "While certain aspects of the exam may change (such as moving from educating teens about sex to screening the elderly for risk of hip fracture), the annual gynecologic exam is intended to promote women’s health throughout their lifetime."
If you're the kind of person who has a tendency towards immediately forgetting everything you were going to say once you don a medical gown, there's one trick that OB/GYNs agree — writing down notes. "When many women visit with an OB/GYN, they get a bit anxious — so writing down notes is good," Minkin says.
As you go about your daily life, "if you are worried about a symptom, write it down and ask your doctor," Werner says. Soon you'll be taking care of your body like a pro.
If the nerves have still got you and a notepad's not enough, there are other solutions. "If you feel more comfortable bringing a friend with you, by all means do so," Minkin says.
7Know The Red Flags
Some things that seem little to you might actually be a big deal to your doctor. If you're "having 'funky bleeding' — please let your doctor know," Minkin says. "Having heavy bleeding, erratic periods, bleeding after intercourse — these all merit investigation." Pain, (whether spontaneously or during sex) or unusual discharge are also things worth noting, Minkin says.
Basically, if it's out of the ordinary for you, it's worth noting.
8Make Sure You Self-Advocate
For holistic care, the OB/GYN should be just one of the doctors you see every year. If your healthcare team is going to be as effective as possible, you'll have to make sure information is being relayed between your providers. When Minkin goes to the OB/GYN, she says, "I just try to make sure I think if anything unusual has happened since my last visit — and if I have had blood work done that my OB/GYN didn't order, I try to make sure I have a copy of it for him, for my gyn records." And if you're not getting the care and attention you need, keep searching — you deserve to have a doctor listen to your symptoms, and provide you with the best healthcare they can give you.
9Remember Your Vaccines
One last thing that OB/GYNs agree on is the importance of getting vaccinated. This may not seem obvious, but the OB/GYN office is a great place to receive preventative care. Which vaccine you may need will depend on your medical history, or the time of year, Werner says.
Two important ones Werner notes are the influenza vaccine, which you should get yearly, and, for young women, the HPV vaccine, which can which can help prevent a virus that may lead to cervical cancer.
Going to the OB/GYN may seem a bit nerve-racking, but by knowing what to expect, and preparing for your appointment the way your doctor would, you can look out for your health in the best way possible.