7 Questions You Need to Ask Your Gynecologist
The question to ask: So how many of these wacko-looking things do you insert a week?
IUDs! It’s all anybody talks about. The popularity of these devices among women using birth control has been skyrocketing—from a teeny 2.4 percent in 2002 to 8.5 percent in 2009 (and these numbers came out before the release of Skyla, which is marketed to younger women who might have previously chosen the pill). Your experience with this device, at least at first, will hinge on your clinician's comfort and experience level. So you not only want her to explain the pros and cons, you also want to hear that she inserts them at least twice a week. One of the biggest negatives to the IUD is the risk that it could puncture the uterine wall. This is estimated to happen to about 1 in 2,000 women, and it's usually during insertion. Another reason skill level is crucial: The more familiar your clinician is with the procedure, the more likely she'll know techniques to decrease pain during the insertion—which, as you've heard, is practically a given.
If that unpleasant fungus that affects three-quarters of women seems to have a special preference for you...
The question to ask: Can you write me a prescription for a fluconazole refill?
If you know exactly what we're talking about, that means you're probably one of those women who is prone to yeast infections—you get them when you're on antibiotics, when you're super-stressed or when you return from a romantic getaway. At the first sign of an infection, you know to make an appointment with your doctor. Asking her for a refill prescription the next time you see her could save you some of the hassle. Of course, there's no guarantee she'll say yes—but it helps if you have a good relationship with your physician and if you've been keeping up with your Pap smears and wellness exams, says Michele G. Curtis, MD, a gynecologist based in Houston, Texas, and editor of a textbook for women's-health clinicians.
Next: When to have "the talk"
The question to ask: What can I do to prepare?
So many women wait to have "the talk" with their doctor until they're already pregnant, says Lauren Streicher, MD, Chicago-based gynecologist and an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school. But if you bring it up well ahead of time, your gynecologist can help you have a healthier, happier, more informed pregnancy. Streicher recommends making a "pre-conception" appointment to see your healthcare provider at least three months before you plan to start trying so that she can review your genetic history with you, make sure your vaccinations are up to date and talk to you about what you should be doing (eating low-mercury fish, taking prenatal vitamins) and what you shouldn't (eating high-mercury fish, smoking). Many OB-GYNs wait a couple weeks after the positive pregnancy test to examine their patients, so the pre-conception visit is also a good time to ask any questions you might have about those first, often surreal weeks.
If you're one of the 62 percent of women currently using contraception (of any kind)...
The question to ask: Is this the best option for me right now?
We tend to fall into a birth control rut...and so do our doctors. For example, many doctors prescribe the same brand of pills over and over again, says Michael Thomas, MD, a contraceptive researcher at the University of Cincinnati Medical School. Even if you like what you've got, that doesn't mean there isn't something that could work better for you—like an IUD or a loser-dose version of your pill.
If you asked the question above...
The follow-up should be: What haven’t I heard—that I really need to know?
Many patients report that their doctors breezed over risks for contraceptives like the ring (which is why they're extra-freaked-out when they read about them in the media). And most women don't realize that the effectiveness of their birth control as well as the risks for complications (like blood clots) are affected by their weight, says Thomas—and doctors of any type are hesitant to bring up weight issues without prompting. Even if you decide to stick with the same method you've had for years, your risk profile may have changed due to your age or changes in your health (or the health of your family members).
Next: If you want to make sure you don't have any STIs
The question to ask: "How can I make sure I don't have any STIs?"
While your doctor may notice something unusual during a pelvic exam or a Pap test, many STIs require specific, separate tests, says Streicher. Contrary to popular belief, there's no one test that can "catch everything." You might need to get a swab for gonorrhea and chlamydia (which doesn't usually present obvious symptoms) or a blood test for herpes, HIV, hepatitis and syphilis. None of these are typically included in a wellness visit—unless you ask.
If you're under 50 or over 74...
The question to ask: When should I get a mammogram?
Everyone agrees that any woman, of any age, should get a suspicious lump or other breast change checked out and that women with a mother or sibling with breast cancer should tell their doctors ASAP. But that's about all they agree on. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women between 50 and 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years. The American Cancer Society and other experts recommend that women start getting a mammogram every year at age 40. You could spend hours—even days—sifting through conflicting information and advice. Let us spare you the frustration: Schedule a 15-minute appointment to talk to your doctor about your situation and your risks (that's ultimately what the fact sheets and guidelines will tell you to do, too).
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