By Dr Jyoti Khatri
In a country like India where tradition dictates conservatism, women do not follow the regular practice of visiting gynecologists for a routine health check-up. Many are reluctant to take a gynecologist appointment. In fact, for most women, especially outside urban areas, reproductive health is not a priority. Consequently, women are exposed to several health risks during their lifetime. There is a dire need to change this in society as women's reproductive health needs special attention.
Why is it important to see a gynecologist?
It is important to visit the gynecologist at least once a year starting from teens and throughout life to care for the health of the reproductive system.
The conditions that a woman must discuss with her gynecologist include issues relating to:
Throughout a woman's life, menstruation changes periodically, depending on the health of the body and various stages, including pregnancy.
Discussing issues like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), fibroids, breast disorders and abnormalities of the female reproductive tract with the gynecologist is important. It is also necessary to discuss family planning, contraception, sterilization and other reproductive issues with the gynecologist once a woman is sexually active.
Reasons to see a gynecologist
If you have an adolescent daughter, it is important to make her understand the importance of her sexual health by scheduling regular visits to the gynecologist for her. She may have questions regarding her body and taking her to a doctor will be a good way to help her get her questions answered. It is also a proper way to establish a relationship for your doctor with a gynecologist starting now so that she is more open to such discussions in the future. This way you can communicate any health concerns you have for her health too.
Why pregnant women should consult gynecologist
Pregnancy is another important stage in your life when the support of the gynecologist is required the most. Women who are pregnant or in doubt of being pregnant should consult the doctor. A doctor will monitor your and your baby's health throughout your pregnancy. Regular screening for diabetes, blood pressure and care against miscarriages is something the doctor will check for. Other conditions like irritable bowels, thyroid conditions and anemia are also problems that a doctor will monitor for during pregnancy.
What does a gynecologist do?
The gynecologist will also monitor the growth of the fetus and take care of issues, which may result in a preterm delivery or an incompetent cervix. Women with high-risk pregnancies who might experience bleeding or an infection, those with gestational diabetes or kidney infections are also monitored and cared for by doctors throughout their pregnancy.
Problems of conceiving and menstrual issues including amenorrhea for more than three months is also something you need to see the doctor for. Experiencing severe discomfort, heavy bleeding and pain in the pelvis are other issues for which you need to visit the gynecologist. Women in the age group of 40-50 should schedule mammogram referrals in order to rule out breast cancer.
Women need to be screened for various disorders and problems as well as get regular advice from the gynecologist for various issues. These include screening for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) as well. A gynecologist will also advise you on the best methods of contraception for your body. It is also necessary to get screened regularly for reproductive organ cancers and learn about HPV vaccines.
What to expect when you visit your gynecologist
• General health check: Your vitals will be measured. You will be weighed, and your blood pressure will be checked. You may also be asked to take some blood and urine tests.
• Health History: You will be asked general questions about your family and personal health history. You will also be required to answer questions about your personal habits like drinking, smoking, drugs and sexual lifestyle.
• Pelvic exam: Your doctor will examine the inside and outside of your vagina, vulva and cervix. She will try to make it as pain-free as possible
• Pap smear: A Pap test is done during your pelvic exam. The doctor will remove cell samples from your cervix and this is sent to a laboratory to test for precancerous changes in the cells of your cervix.
• Breast exam: Your doctor checks for any lumps or other abnormalities.
• STD tests: On your request or if the doctor requires it, you may be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. It may be conducted by doing blood tests or taking vaginal samples
After all the tests are conducted you may have a talk with your gynecologist regarding the results of the tests. In case any further evaluations are required, you may be counselled regarding various problems. Your gynecologist may ask you to perform mammograms or bone density tests. Your doctor may also talk to you about taking supplements including calcium, iron and folic acid in order to improve your health.
The author is Consultant, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Motherhood Hospitals, Noida. Views expressed are the author's own.