Gynecologist Tips On Prepping for Your Next Exam

by Dr. Suzanne Hall

Who really enjoys a visit to the gynecologist? For some women, it probably ranks right up there with getting a tooth drilled at the dentist or the screeching sound of nails on a chalkboard.

But let’s fact it, the gynecologic exam/Pap smear is a necessary part of preventative women’s health screening. Whether it’s your first visit, or you’re seeing an ob/gyn you’ve known for years, here are a few tips that may help your visit go more smoothly.

1. Prepare your questions and concerns ahead of time.

Since the average patient-physician interaction is 10-20 minutes, it’s helpful if you bring along a list of questions or concerns, and if you keep them as concise as possible. Keep an ongoing list in your phone so you have it handy and don't forget anything.  Also, know your medical and surgical history, medication, allergies and the names of any medications you are currently taking. If you have any problems or symptoms, write down when they began, if they worsened over time and what you think aggravates the situation. Let your doctor know if you notice the symptoms are cycling with your period.

Understand that if your list of questions and concerns is long, you may have to address some of them at a subsequent visit with your gynecologist.

RELATED Questions Women Are Afraid to Ask Their OB/GYNs

2. Get set for some wait time. 

I imagine it’s hard for patients to understand all the demands placed on a physician’s time, including the tasks that occur when the doctor is out of the exam room. 

We’re handling test results, reviewing your records and reports, taking calls from other doctors, checking for drug interactions in the prescriptions we’re writing, answering pages from the hospital on patients we’ve just left or operated on or delivered, and clarifying instructions for the staff on follow-up for the patient that’s called or is checking out. Further, newer technical logistics required for obtaining electronic medical records can make maneuvering patient visits may become even more cumbersome for healthcare providers. 

If you have time constraints, try scheduling your appointment in the first hour that the office is open or re-opens after lunch breaks.  Appointments scheduled later in the day are more likely to be pushed back because of emergencies, interruptions and problems your doctor can't anticipate. That means a greater chance you will be stuck in the waiting room or exam room for a longer time, leafing through a magazine.

3. Breathe deeply about the pelvic exam. 

It’s actually not uncommon for women to be nervous about their visit to the gynecologist -- especially for the pelvic exam.  Be sure to let your provider know if you are nervous so we can help to make you feel more at ease.  Focus on deep breathing during the exam, which may help to distract and relax you.  Don’t be embarrassed to mention bothersome symptoms such as heavy bleeding, painful periods, vaginal discharge or odor, urine leaks, pain or bleeding with sex, changes in your libido, hot flashes, PMS symptoms, or concerns about STDs.  We manage these problems regularly and want you to be honest with us.

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4. Ask if it is time for your teen (or you, if you are a teen) to see the gynecologist, too.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends the first reproductive health visit between 13-15 years of age.  In most cases, this will be a counseling appointment (just talking) to discuss menstrual history, explain anatomy and STD prevention,  and address contraceptive needs. It may not involve an actual pelvic examination. 

Once a female is sexually active, the pelvic exam is recommended to screen for STDs. It may also be necessary if complaints of pelvic pain or abnormal bleeding are present.  Current guidelines suggest the actual Pap smear (done during the pelvic exam) is not necessary until 21 years of age or older.  It’s important to understand the difference between the pelvic exam (visual and manual examination of the pelvic structures) and the Pap smear (a swab of cells collected from the cervix to screen for cervical cancer).

5. Know when to reschedule. 

In casual conversation, I’ve heard ladies joke about their personal hygiene in preparation for their visit to the gynecologist.  It may matter to you whether you’re shaved or waxed or all-natural, your pedicure is fresh or chipped, you’ve recently had sex or it has been a long time, but has no real bearing on the appropriateness of your pelvic exam. 

Performing the actual Pap smear while you’re menstruating or when vaginal infection is present may lead to false positive results. Therefore, obtaining the actual Pap smear may be deferred, even if a pelvic exam is warranted.  Contact your physician’s office before your appointment for instructions on keeping or rescheduling your appointment if you’re unsure.

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Suzanne Hall, MD is a full-time ob/gyn physician in Detroit, Michigan, with a passion for using social media to share news and information in the area of women’s reproductive health.  She is creator and founder of GynoGroupie.com, a fun new blog where ob/gyn  physicians share ‘simple answers to common female health concerns.

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