Ladies: Don’t be afraid to speak up at your next gynecologic exam. Some problems that are uncomfortable to talk about could be signs of something much more serious, such as infections, menopause, endometriosis and even cancer.
Here are the top seven questions that women are afraid to ask their OB-GYNs, with the answers that all patients should know:
1. How do I prevent urination when I sneeze or cough?
First of all, you are hardly alone. Millions of women experience involuntary loss of urine called urinary incontinence. Incontinence occurs because of problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or release urine. Kegel exercises can strengthen the muscles that help hold in urine. If you have an overactive bladder, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to block the nerve signals that cause frequent urination and urgency.
2. What’s the deal with this vaginal odor, itch or discharge?
“Vaginitis” is a medical term used to describe various disorders that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. To maintain good vaginal hygiene, try to avoid frequent, long baths as well as hot tubs and whirlpools. Do not use scented or harsh soaps, such as those with deodorant or antibacterial action. Do not use scented tampons or pads that may be irritating to vaginal tissue. Avoid regular douching as it is not necessary and disrupts the normal vaginal flora.
3. It hurts when I have intercourse. What can I do?
Pain during intercourse is very common. In many cases, a woman can experience painful sex if there is not sufficient vaginal lubrication. For others, pain during sex may be a sign of a gynecologic problem, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. If you have pain during or after sex, you should get advice from your doctor.
4. I’m just not in the mood. How can I improve my libido?
Millions of people suffer from a low libido — or an inhibited sex drive — at one point or another. Take a few days to examine your daily lifestyle and try and pinpoint potential causes, such as poor self image, anxiety about the act itself, frustrations with another part of the relationship or depression. Medical issues that may cause low libido include heart disease, diabetes and untreated thyroid problems. Low testosterone or estrogen is also commonly linked to sex drive problems; postmenopausal women may be prescribed topical or oral estrogen. Your doctor can help you identify medical or other problems and direct you to appropriate treatments.
5. Is it normal to have a heavy period or a period that lasts longer than a week?
Menstrual cycles are not the same for every woman. On average, menstrual flow occurs every 28 days (with most women having cycles between 24 and 34 days), and lasts about four to seven days. But there is a wide variation in timing and duration that is still considered normal. Talk to your doctor if you have severe pain, especially if you also have pain when not menstruating; if periods have been heavier or more prolonged than what is normal for you; or if you have bleeding or spotting after menopause or between periods.
6. I think my partner cheated. Should I be tested for STDs?
If you think your partner has had oral, vaginal or anal sex with another person, it’s a good idea for you to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Many people have sexually transmitted infections and never know it. Three of the more dangerous STDS are chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV, so talk to your doctor about getting tested.
7. These mood swings/hot flashes/sleep problems are driving me bananas! Am I in menopause?
Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the U. S. The physical and emotional symptoms of menopause may disrupt your sleep, cause hot flashes, night sweats and irregular periods, lower your energy or — for some women — trigger anxiety or feelings of sadness and loss.
The severity of these changes varies from woman to woman, but for the most part, they are perfectly natural and normal. If you have any of these questions, talk to your gynecologist — who can listen, understand and help you solve some of these problems so you are feeling your best.