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.”
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.
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.
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When you don't speak up.
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.”
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.)