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Pap Smears Are Only One Good Reason to Visit Your Ob/Gyn
The United States Preventive Services Task Force determined that there isn't any evidence to support that more frequent screenings help catch cervical cancer. The government isn't the first group to change its recommendations--in fact, it's one of the last: Cancer groups and others have been urging for less frequent screenings for the past few years. But this basically means the annual Pap will be RIP (of course, these recommendations apply only to healthy women, not those who have puzzling symptoms, an unusual Pap test result or a history of dysplasia, cervical cancer, H.I.V. or other issues).
Just because you no longer need a Pap smear every year doesn't mean you should schedule your next ob/gyn appointment for 2015. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) gave us four more great reasons to keep up the yearly visits:
1. To assess your lady parts (and other parts). At a typical exam, ob/gyns perform abdominal exams (to make sure the ovaries and uterus feel normal), breast exams and pelvic exams. Beyond your reproductive organs, they also usually check your blood pressure, weight, BMI and pulse. Good ob/gyns have been known to help women with weight problems, bloating, acne and skin discoloration related to hormonal fluctuations.
2. To answer all of your embarrassing--or just niggling--personal questions. What does a [insert adjective here] discharge mean? Should you switch to an IUD? Should you be worried about your decreasing fertility? Why is it taking so long to get pregnant? What should you expect from menopause? Should you be concerned about a pain/lump/twinge in your lower abdomen or crotch area? You could run some of these by your primary care doctor, but an ob/gyn specializes in them, knows what to look for and answers questions like these as part of her daily job.
3. To help you with your sex problems. While your ob/gyn probably won't be able to counsel you about your intimacy issues, she will know what to do about pain or discomfort during sex, bleeding or discharge after sex, the effect of your birth control on your sex drive (and how to deal), and the best ways to avoid urinary tract infections (nearly 80 percent of all UTIs in premenopausal women occur within 24 hours of intercourse). She'll also be able to answer your questions about STDs, and help you get the tests you may need.
4. To develop an ongoing discussion with a professional about your sexual and reproductive health--and how it changes over time. When you have an established relationship with an ob/gyn, you're not only more comfortable bringing up your small-seeming (but possibly significant) issues with her, but she's also better able to monitor your long-term health and suggest treatment options that work best for you and your lifestyle. For example, she'll be familiar with your menstrual issues (those cramps you used to get), your sexual history (and that STD scare), your on-again-off-again affair with birth control pills, and your fertility concerns. Your primary care doctor may be, as well, but that will be in addition to other, more general health issues. And ACOG data shows that for many women, their gynecologist is the medical professional they visit the most often.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.