As a general rule, your gynecologist's office is a #NoJudge zone where you can talk about all the TMI stuff you're too embarrassed to share with your friends or parents. (If you can't, then read the six things your gyno should NEVER do during an appointment and find a new one if anything rings true!) Still, there are a few common mistakes that doctors see over and over — and those mistakes can keep you from getting the best possible care. Here's what your gyno wishes you'd stop doing.
1. Being too nervous to schedule an appointment. It's normal to be a little anxious, but don't let that stop you from finding a doctor and making the call. Ask friends or family for recommendations, and call around until you find a doctor who gives you a good vibe. "When you make the appointment, just say, 'I'm really nervous because this is my first visit,'" says Serena Chen, MD, director for reproductive medicine at Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas. Then gauge how they react — do they brush off your concerns or try to reassure you? "You want somebody who's going to understand that this is your first experience and it's a little nerve-wracking," Dr. Chen adds. "You want people who are going to be supportive.
2. Waiting until you're sexually active to see her. Even if you haven't had sex yet — and aren't planning to anytime soon — a gynecologist is still an important part of your health squad. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends scheduling your first visit between ages 13 and 15. You probably won't get a pelvic exam that early, but she can assess your medical history and help you with any period probs. Plus, when you're ready to do the deed, you'll already have a doctor you trust. "Sometimes it does take a little bit of shopping around before you click with a doctor," Dr. Chen says. "And for your gynecologist, I do think it's important to click. It's such a sensitive and intimate area — you really want to feel comfortable."
3. Clamming up at your checkup. We know it's awkward to chat about your vagina with someone you see once a year, but keep in mind your gynecologist absolutely, positively won't be weirded out by anything you say. "The important thing is to be honest with your doctor and let them know everything that's going on, instead of leaving the questions in the bubble above your head," Dr. Chen says. If there's something you're too embarrassed to ask, write it down and bring it with you instead. If anatomical terms make you cringe, use whatever words you're comfortable with — your gyno has heard it all before.
4. Believing the "feminine hygiene" hype. Step away from those products that promise to make your ladybits smell like a field of wildflowers. "Douches are actually associated with higher rates of pelvic inflammatory disease. The CDC specifically recommends against them," Dr. Chen says. "Feminine deodorant sprays can cause irritation or allergic reactions, and they can create an imbalance in the chemistry of the vagina and lead to higher rates of bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth." That said, if you feel like you smell extra-funky, schedule an appointment to make sure you don't have an infection. Otherwise, just wash with mild soap in the shower like you normally would — that's all the hygiene you need.
5. Worrying about your grooming habits. Your doctor couldn't care less whether you've got a Brazilian wax, an untamed wilderness, or anything in between. "My patients are always apologizing for not shaving beforehand, and it really does not make a difference," Dr. Chen says. "The doctor is not thinking about it."
6. Waiting out a UTI. If you have the telltale symptoms of a urinary tract infection (you feel like you have to pee all the time, and it burns when you do), don't waste time trying to treat it with home remedies. "A UTI can go to your kidneys, so that should be considered urgent," Dr. Chen cautions. If you can't get a doctor's appointment, see if the nurse at the office can prescribe a treatment, or visit a walk-in clinic to get a urine culture done. In the meantime, guzzle water like it's your job.
7. Googling all your burning health questions. Aside from the fact that you'll probably convince yourself you're dying from some rare flesh-eating parasite, online searches don't know your medical history or risk factors like a (human) doctor would. "Dr. Google is great for general health awareness, but for actual medical advice, you have to see the doctor," Dr. Chen says. If you're up late worrying and can't resist the call of the interwebs, stick to physician's societies like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (acog.org) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (asrm.org), where actual doctors have vetted the info.
8. Putting up with bad PMS. Seriously, don't suck it up. If you're having severe cramps or a super-heavy flow or wicked mood swings, your gynecologist wants to hear about it so she can help. "People shouldn't be suffering every single month," Dr. Chen says. "There are a lot of things that can be done, so you should definitely be evaluated. It's usually something simple that can be treated."
9. Slacking on safe sex. You may feel weird asking about birth control and protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases and infections, but remember that your gynecologist literally talks about this stuff all day long. She can give you a rundown of your options and help you choose the best one for you. And, friendly reminder, she'd prefer you do all that before you actually do the deed. "The best thing — even though it makes people nervous — is to see the gynecologist before you have your first sexual experience, so you make sure you get protected against unwanted pregnancy and STDs."
10. Canceling your checkup because you got your period. OK, so you scheduled your exam, and then the morning of your appointment, you get your period. You may be tempted to reschedule, but check with your gyno first. "It can never hurt to call the nurse and say, 'I'm on my period, is it OK if I come in?'" Dr. Chen says. "I always like people to come anyway, because it's hard to get people scheduled." And if your period's irregular, there's no guarantee you'll be period-free when your next appointment rolls around either — and that creates a catch-22 where you're not getting help for your irregular period because you can't schedule a visit around your irregular period. Bottom line? "Lean towards going in," Dr. Chen says.
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