We get it, the gynecologist’s office may not be exactly the most comfortable or natural setting in which to get into a deep, personal conversation, but maintaining an open and honest dialogue with your doc is critical. “As a gynecologist, I want to know virtually everything about my patients,” says Felice Gersh, MD, OBGYN and author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness. “A woman’s reproductive health is a reflection of her overall health, and overall health impacts reproductive health. It’s all one complex and interrelated system.” To get super specific, here are five of the most important things worth bringing up at your annual visit.
Sounds simple enough, but your period is a huge indicator of your overall health. “The menstrual cycle is a vital sign of female health and must be carefully attended to,” says Dr. Gersh. That means discussing not only how often you get it and how long it lasts, but also any missed periods or period-related symptoms and when they occur. One easy way to keep track of all this info? One of the many smartphone apps that lets you track your period, suggests Brandye Wilson-Manigat, MD, OB/GYN and libido coach. We like Flo (free for iPhone and Android), which allows you track everything from your weight to sexual activity to PMS.
“People are often nervous asking questions about sexual issues – so much so that they wait until the last minutes of the visit to bring it up. As I put my hand on the doorknob they say, ‘Doctor, one more thing...I don't want to have sex anymore,’” says Dr. Wilson-Manigat. Your OBGYN is the first person you should bring up sexual issues with; this includes painful intercourse, not having orgasms, and a lack of desire, she adds. Share what’s going on and make it a priority in the conversation. “These aren’t simple problems and they don’t have simple solutions, so give yourself and your doctor a chance to effectively address the issue,” she suggests. Also on the sex front, it’s critically important to disclose the (real) number of sexual partners you’ve had, adds Dr. Gersh.
Medications and vitamins
Bring a list of everything you’re taking — be that prescription pills or natural supplements — and the dosage of each to your next appointment, advises Dr. Wilson-Manigat. “Certain medications may affect your menstrual cycle, while others can be dangerous if you’re taking them and trying to get pregnant,” she says. Some medications can also impact the microbiome in your vagina, explains Dr. Gersh, meaning they could potentially be responsible for certain symptoms.
The HPV Vaccine
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the leading cause of cervical cancer. It can also cause genital warts and cancers of the vulva, anus, penis, and parts of the throat. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against HPV, yet data shows many people have been missing out (according to the CDC, less than 50 percent of girls 13 to 17, when the series of shot is most recommended, are fully vaccinated against the disease). The good news: It's not too late. Previously approved for young adults up to 26 years old, the FDA recently expanded the use of the HPV vaccination (Gardasil 9) up to age 45. What’s more, the latest version protects against nine strains of the human papillomavirus — that’s four more than the original. If you have not previously been vaccinated, ask your doctor asap is this is a good option for you.
“If you want to have the best possible pregnancy, ask your doctor how you can optimize your health before you get pregnant,” suggests Dr. Wilson-Manigat. You can discuss things like any pre-existing medical conditions you may have that can affect your pregnancy and talk about things you can start doing even before you attempt to conceive, such as taking prenatal vitamins, she adds. On the flip side, if babies are not on your radar, talk to your doctor about your options for birth control. There are far more choices out there than just the pill and condoms, especially depending on when you want to start considering pregnancy, says Dr. Wilson-Manigat.