Although your vaginal and reproductive health are extremely important, going to see your OB/GYN can be intimidating for some. It can be awkward to discuss your sexual health with a stranger and — let's be real — having someone poke around down there can be uncomfortable. This can make some people hesitant about going to their yearly OB/GYN appointments or even making appointments when something might be off. As a result, people might brush off small issues and avoid getting a check-up because they don't know that there are times you should visit your OB/GYN even if you think nothing's wrong.
Sometimes, even when you do think something is wrong, it can be tempting to just starting Googling your symptoms and try to diagnose yourself. This can usually make you unnecessarily nervous or even lead you to try home remedies that exacerbate your issues, Dr. Janelle Luk, reproductive endocrinologist and medical director and co-founder of Generation Next Fertility, tells Bustle, "Although many [people with uteruses] opt to self-treat when they encounter vaginal or other reproductive health abnormalities, a visit to the gynecologist can usually confirm any potential diagnosis with more accuracy." But if you're really not sure when to call your doctor, here are eight times you should visit your OB/GYN even if you might think you don't have to.
1. If You Miss A Period
If you're regularly irregular or not sexually active, you might not think much of a missed period. But that doesn't mean you should skip out on the trip to see your OB/GYN. Kate Shkodzik, MD, OB/GYN, and medical consultant at Flo Health tells Bustle, "Although commonly associated with pregnancy, a missed period may also be a sign of an endocrine problem like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid dysfunction, or hyperprolactinemia." Because these issues all deal with hormone imbalances or irregularities, they can affect your cycle. So even if you might be relieved that Aunt Flo didn't come to town this month, you should see your OB/GYN to make sure it's not indicative of a bigger problem.
2. If You Have More Than One Period A Month
Sometimes the problem isn't no period, it's having too many. "If you are bleeding twice or more during one menstrual cycle, notice blood after sex, or if your periods stop and start again after several days, it could be a sign of hormonal imbalance, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease or cervical neoplasia," Shkodzik says. Even if you think what you're experiencing is just regular spotting after your period, if you've noticed that this happens often within a month, it could be telling of a medical condition. It's important for you to contact your OB/GYN if this happens, especially if you notice this often within your cycle.
3. If There Are Changes In Your Discharge
If you notice your discharge has had an unusual consistency lately, it could be a sign that you need to get checked out. "Normal vaginal discharge indicates good vaginal health, but excessive amounts of discharge or unusual color can indicate an underlying issue, such as a bacterial infection," Shkodzik says. "Most slight changes in the consistency or color of vaginal discharge are normal but if you are unsure about what you’re experiencing, contact your gynecologist for advice."
You should especially be on the lookout if you're noticing a change in your discharge without any vaginal odor accompanying it, even though this may seem less serious. Felice Gersh, M.D., OB/GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, tells Bustle, "You might think this is a hormone issue and nothing to be concerned with, but it could be a manifestation of a serious sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, or be due to mycoplasma or ureaplasma, two other infections which are quite prevalent. Get checked!"
4. If You Have Vaginal Odor
We know that there are different things that can affect the smell of your vagina like food, but take note if a vaginal odor seems out of the ordinary to you. "Strong-smelling green or yellow discharge coupled with itching, pelvic pain, bleeding or trouble urinating may be symptoms of chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis," Luk says. Vaginal odor could also mean that you need to incorporate more nutrient-rich foods into your day or you may need to choose better underwear for your health. But whatever the possible reason, it's important you talk to your OB/GYN first before making any changes.
5. If You Have Bumps On Your Vulva
If you shave, then razor bumps on your vulva might not be something of alarm. But Luk says that even if you think you just have razor bumps, you should get checked out. "Aside from razor burn, or folliculitis, raised lumps around the vaginal area can be a sign of a more serious health condition," she says. "Skin-colored bumps with the same texture or patterns that look like a cauliflower are a more common red flag, usually indicating genital warts. Definitely consult with your gynecologist if you notice these warts, as the doctor will then be able to cut, freeze, or burn them off."
Dr. Gersh says that this could also be herpes, ranging from small to large outbreaks. "[These] are quite slight and feel more like a minor skin irritation and are easily misdiagnosed," she says. Either way, to prevent a misdiagnoses or mishandling of a condition, it's important to go to your OB/GYN right away to get checked out.
6. If It Burns When You Pee
If you ever feel an uncomfortable burning or stinging sensation when you urinate, it could be an indication of a health problem. "Trouble urinating, a burning sensation while urinating, or more frequent urination can all be potential symptoms of a urinary tract infection or 'UTI' in which bacteria has entered the urine," Luk says. She explains that if you do have a UTI, your best bet is having your doctor prescribe you antibiotics. And if the burning is from a yeast-infection instead, you can buy over-the-counter medication. She says, "Both of these conditions are typically resolved between one day and one week, but without a visit to the gynecologist you may not be able to determine your diagnosis!"
7. If You're Really Itchy Down There
Sometimes after you shave and your pubic hair begins to grow back, your vagina can feel itchy. And while that's normal, if you notice that you're getting especially itchy and it's consistent, something could be wrong. "Sometimes vaginal itching can be brought on by scented fabrics, soaps or perfumes that irritate the skin via 'contact dermatitis'," Luk says. She adds that prolonged itching can be a sign of a yeast infection or more. It's important to see your OB/GYN in either case so that you can be prescribed the proper medication to get rid of the itch and take care of whatever may be causing it.
8. If You Bleed After Sex
If you ever bleed after sex, you might be concerned that you've hurt the inside of your vagina or something along those lines. This may not necessarily be the case, but the bleeding could be a sign of something bigger going on. "While spotting is not uncommon after having sex, particularly if a [person with a vulva's] period is about to begin or end, heavy bleeding as well as fever or vomiting after intercourse might be a sign of more serious conditions," Luk says. "A visit to your gynecologist can help confirm whether cervical polyps, cervical inflammation caused by chlamydia or human papillomavirus, genital sores from herpes or syphilis, thinning, drying or inflammation of the vaginal walls, or cervical cancer is the cause of the postcoital bleeding."
While you should never freak out about anything going on around your vagina or your vulva, there is no problem too small for an OB/GYN visit. Your safety, health, and peace of mind should be the main concern for both you and your doctor, and so next time you may think something is wrong in passing, head to your OB/GYN and get checked out.