As you mature, your health priorities often evolve and grow with you — especially as it pertains to your reproductive health. What concerned you in your teen years may no longer be at the forefront of your mind in your 30s, and what worried you during your 30s may no longer be relevant at age 50.
You may feel embarrassed to ask certain questions at the time, but asking your gynecologist the right questions for each stage of your life puts you in the driver’s seat of your health.
Whether you’re a teenager going for your first visit or a middle-aged mother dealing with symptoms of perimenopause, here’s a look at some questions to ask your gynecologist:
• Are my symptoms normal? Menstrual cramps and bleeding can be distressing. Your gynecologist can tell you what symptoms warrant further investigation and what shouldn’t concern you.
• What method of birth control should I use? Options abound, and your gynecologist can help you choose one you’re comfortable with.
• Strongly consider getting vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) to prevent genital warts and precancerous changes to the cervix. If you receive the vaccine series before 16 years old, you will only need 2 shots instead of 3.
In your 20s
• Do I need a Pap test? If you’re age 21 or older, you should have a Pap test at least every three years to check for cervical cancer.
• What can you do to increase my chances of a healthy pregnancy? Your gynecologist may advise you to follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly to achieve a healthy weight, take a folic acid supplement, and cut back on caffeine, among other recommendations.
In your 30s
• Do I need an HPV test? Beginning at age 30, you should have a standalone human papillomavirus (HPV) test or a combination Pap test and HPV test every five years. If you opt for the former, continue having a Pap test every three years.
• Why are my periods so heavy? Heavy bleeding is common and can have a variety of causes, including uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Your gynecologist can help determine what’s going on and how to relieve bleeding.
In your 40s
• When should I have my first screening mammogram? The American Cancer Society recommends having an annual mammogram beginning at age 45, but you may wish to start earlier, depending on your risk. Speak with your gynecologist about the best screening strategy for you.
• How do I know if perimenopause has started? The multi-year lead-up to menopause — the end of menstrual periods — typically begins in your mid- to late 40s. Signs of perimenopause include hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and irregular periods.
• It is more important than ever during perimenopause to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and address poor quality sleep which affects mood and resilience to stress. Talk to your gynecologist about options for treatment of hot flashes and night sweats, and the numerous options both medical and surgical to treat heavy menses.
In your 50s
• Why does pain occur during sex? After menopause, hormone changes can cause uncomfortable vaginal dryness, but over-the-counter lubricants or moisturizers can help.
• Why do I experience urine leakage when I exercise? The problem could be urinary incontinence, which can occur if pregnancy, childbirth or menopause weakens your pelvic floor muscles. Your gynecologist can put together a treatment plan.
Dr. Holly Stevens is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Novant Health Carolina Women’s Health Associates – China Grove.