9 Secrets Gynecologists Won’t Tell You About Their Patients’ Annoying Habits
It’s not what you’d think.
When you worry about your grooming
Your ob-gyn only has about 7 to 11 minutes each visit with you, and she’s not spending that time focusing on how close is your shave. “I see so many patients who apologize for not shaving their legs,” says Maureen Mulvihill, MD, an ob-gyn in private practice in Southern California. “But I don’t notice, and I’ve never met another physician who does.” Dr. Lebowitz agrees. “We don’t care about your stubble—we want to make sure everything is healthy down there!” she says. “Hair is natural, and we’ve all got it.” (These 15 everyday habits are messing with your vaginal health more than you ever thought!)
When you cancel because of your period
All the ob-gyns we spoke to said the same thing: Don’t cancel your appointment because of your period. Newer Pap smear techniques allow doctors to get accurate results even when it’s that time of the month, explains Dr. Jacoby, MD. “Remember, I’m an obstetrician—I help women give birth. I’ve seen a fair share of blood,” she says. “I prefer my patients keep their appointments.” If you’re experiencing heavy bleeding and are concerned about it, it actually makes sense for your doctor to see you then to see if there are clues she can find as to why. However, in extremely rare situations, if your flow is exceptionally heavy, Dr. Lebowitz suggests you reschedule, since the lab may make your doctor repeat the Pap.
When you self-diagnose, like with yeast infections and UTIs
With over-the-counter antifungal medications, such as Monistat, it’s easy to treat a yeast infection yourself. But if you have any concerns, see your doctor first. “Please don’t come in for an appointment while you’re in the middle of your treatment,” says Dr. Lebowitz. “We can’t do anything if you’ve already applied the medicine, since it gets too messy for us to do an accurate exam.” To fight a urinary tract infection you’ll need prescription antibiotics, which some ob-gyns will provide by phone to your pharmacy. Once you start a round of medication, though, be sure to finish it. “Women normally feel better within 24 hours of starting an antibiotic, but that does not mean you stop taking medication,” says Beth Battaglino, RN, president and CEO of HealthyWomen, a non-profit that educates on women’s health topics. “It’s important to take the full amount of what’s prescribed, which is normally seven days, so you don’t experience a repeat UTI.” If you’re prone to recurrent infections, see your doctor. (Make sure you eat these 10 foods for a healthy vagina!)
When you don’t tell us what meds you take
You may not think your other medications matter to your ob-gyn—after all, you’re just going in for a Pap smear or to renew your birth control prescription. But your doctor needs to hear it, because your drug regimen could affect your care. For example, if she knows you take a medication for blood pressure, or an acne drug with high risks of birth defects, that could affect what type of birth control she recommends. To help her, write down the name and dosage of every drug and supplement you regularly take before your next visit.
When you don’t speak up
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Ob-gyns we spoke to swore that they want to hear anything that’s on your mind, even if it seems silly or weird or gross. “Our responsibility is to help our patients make good health care choices for themselves. Some problems can feel embarrassing, but they are problems we see every day,” says Dana Jacoby, MD, an ob-gyn in private practice in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. In some cases, getting over your shyness can save your life. Nancy Lebowitz, MD, a clinical instructor at NY Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell, remembers a patient who was embarrassed by a skin rash on her arm: “When I asked her how long she’d had it, her answer raised a red flag—it had been there way too long. After further testing with her primary care doctor, we discovered she actually had lymphoma.” (Don’t miss these many ways to prevent yeast infections that every woman should know.)
When you don’t get tested for cervical cancer
Recent headlines questioning the value of pelvic exams for healthy women may have some patients wondering whether they need to even go to the doctor. But the experts we spoke to say there’s no doubt that screening for cervical cancer can save lives. “We all know of patients who waited too long to get help for red-flag symptoms—for example, foul-smelling discharge—and wound up diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer,” says Battaglino. Current guidelines recommend that women with an average risk for cervical cancer get screened every three years when in their 20s; those aged 30 through 65 should get Pap smears every three years or a combination of Pap and HPV test every five years. (Women 65 and older may not need regular screening if previous tests have been normal.) Learn the 19 answers to embarrassing questions you want to ask your gyno.
Seeking medical advice on the internet
Most people think that Googling their symptoms will help them feel at ease, but if anything, it may just make you feel worse. One symptom could mean a dozen different health conditions. And the next thing you know, you’re going into a full-blown panic. Dr. Google is good for general health queries, but if you want legitimate medical advice, ask your doctor for help, not the internet. (Check out the 11 things your vaginal discharge can tell you about your health.)
Talking on your phone during the exams
Nothing irks a gynecologist more than a distracted patient who wastes their time yakking on their cell phone instead of focusing on the matter at hand — their health. “I once had a patient participate in a parent-teacher conference while I was doing her pelvic exam,”Arlene Kaelber, MD, an ob-gyn at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York told Prevention. “Your appointment is the opportunity to ask me questions and for me to give you information, so paying attention is key.”
Using feminine hygiene products to “smell good” down there
Don’t even bother grabbing that vaginal wash that promises to make your nether regions smell like daisies and wildflowers. Gynecologists do not recommend douching or using feminine deodorant sprays as they can destroy your vagina’s natural bacterial flora and increase your risk for infections. “One practice women can avoid is douching, whether it’s before an appointment, or in general,” Patricia Sulak, M.D., a board certified OB/GYN and professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine told the Vital Record. “There is much evidence that suggests douching can increase your risk for pelvic infections and will also alter your vaginal bacteria. Unless a physician has specifically recommended it for you, it’s not needed.” (Make sure you never ignore these signs of cervical cancer!)