Signs You Definitely Need to See Your Gynecologist
By DR. BETH RICANATI
It can be a delicate question: "When should I see my gynecologist?" I don't always want to call my doctor; sometimes I'm too busy, sometimes I'm too embarrassed. But for all women, there are times when you need to bite the bullet and make an appointment. If you or a friend or sister or any other woman in your life is experiencing the following symptoms, don't wait: The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you get treated, the sooner you’ll feel better.
1. Breast Lump: Breast masses are scary because most of us immediately think of breast cancer.
The good news: The majority of palpable breast masses (lumps and bumps that you can actually feel) are noncancerous, most often caused by something called a "fibroadenoma." However, you can’t be sure without an evaluation that includes a physical examination, imaging (for example, ultrasound and/or mammogram) and often a biopsy to evaluate the tissue itself.
I know women who want to avoid these basic procedures, but please don't. Proactively discovering a lump and dealing with it could save your life.
[Read More: Why Breast Cancer Screening Is So Important]
2. Abnormal Bleeding: This issue isn’t hard to detect, since we're used to what bleeding looks like every month. But doctors define abnormal uterine bleeding as either heavier than normal periods or prolonged periods, bleeding in between periods or even bleeding after you've gone through menopause.
There are many different causes for abnormal bleeding. Regardless of the cause, you need to see your doctor. Expect your doctor to review your medical history, do a pelvic examination, check your blood work and potentially use ultrasound or do a biopsy, if indicated.
3. Vaginal Discharge: This might be the least favorite topic for women. The textbooks call it "vaginitis," which is medical speak for vaginal discharge, itching and/or odor. I hate to say it, but most women will be affected by it at some point during their lives. If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor. Expect them to review your medical history, especially recent sexual history (new partners, protection and use of sex toys) and lifestyle history (new soaps, detergents, underwear).
The good news: Vaginitis is highly treatable. The three most common causes are yeast, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.
4. Pain With Urination: Pain with urination is most commonly caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI). They're very common, and most women will experience at least one in their lifetime. Other symptoms of a UTI include frequent urination, occasionally blood in the urine or cloudy urine and, less frequently, lower-back/flank pain.
The good news: Your doctor will use a simple urine sample to diagnose the cause of the UTI, and the most common treatment is antibiotics. Drinking plenty of water (and even cranberry juice) can be helpful too.
[Read More: 7 Questions to Ask for a Better Checkup]
One last tip to remember: Your doctor cannot read your mind! Share all your symptoms and any changes in your routine or habits. (Yes, this includes sexual activity.) Some patients even keep a diary of symptoms, and this is very helpful. A good doctor will listen and combine your history with any test results to get you the best diagnosis and treatment.
Readers -- Have you ever delayed seeing your doctor out of embarrassment or fear? Do you find it difficult to talk to your doctor about certain topics? What do you think is the best way to start a difficult conversation with your doctor? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Beth Ricanati, M.D., built her career bringing wellness into everyday life, especially for busy moms juggling life and children. Dr. Ricanati worked at Columbia Presbyterian's Center for Women's Health and then at the Women's Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2008, she joined the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute to serve as the founding medical director of Lifestyle180, a groundbreaking lifestyle modification program to treat chronic diseases with nutrition, exercise and stress management. Now based in Southern California, recently she has written wellness content for YouBeauty.com and served as a consultant for medical projects and start-ups.
Follow her on Instagram.