Few women look forward to an annual gyno appointment. Like flossing, shaving, and entertaining your mother-in-law, you see the doc because you have to. But that doesn’t mean this crucial checkup should feel like torture. These five tricks will help you be prepared and feel less stressed.
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Be patient number one
Waiting is never fun. But waiting for an unpleasant event is even worse. And if you have a female gynecologist, “the wait might be longer because patients tend to open up more to women,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale University School of Medicine and author of A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health.
To shorten your wait and get the most face time, schedule several months in advance, Dr. Minkin says. That way you can ask for the first appointment in the morning or for a slot directly after lunch. And make sure your postlunch appointment is on a nonsurgery day, says Vicki Rackner, MD, president of Medical Bridges, a health-coaching-and-advocacy firm for patients and caregivers in Mercer Island, Washington. “A lot of gynecologists have operative mornings,” she explains, “and if an operation lasts longer than expected, all the afternoon appointments will be late.”
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Wait your way
If you have to wait, use the time in an enjoyable way. “Bring something that relaxes you,” says Winnie King, MD, host of Lifetime’s Speaking of Women’s Health and an emergency-medicine physician in The Woodlands, Texas. “It can be a humorous book or calming music on an MP3 player. The goal is to avoid getting more stressed out as time passes.”
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Dress to undress
What’s the best-undressed gyno patient wearing this season? Knee socks. “Socks are the one thing you don’t have to take off, and knee socks can help you keep warm if the exam room is cold,” Dr. Minkin says. Tuck a pair in your purse and forget the lace-up boots and the intricate body shaper. Wear comfortable clothing you can get out of easily. Also, if you’re having a mammogram before or after your Pap test, “wear a top and skirt or pants,” Dr. King says. “That way you can remove just your top for the test.”
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You don't have to be that clean
Many womenunderstandablyfixate on cleaning and grooming themselves before a gyno exam. No need to go overboard. “Too much cleaning, like douching, can negatively affect exams like the Pap test,” Dr. King says. The douche can wash away the cells your gyno needs to examine, so you may have to come in for another Pap. Instead, take your routine shower (using soap is fine) and avoid powders in the genital area. There’s also no need for waxing; your gynecologist checks down there to make sure you’re healthy, not to judge your wax job. What if you have sex the night before? No problem. In years past, semen in a Pap smear could obscure the important cells on the slide. These days, the gynecologist collects cells from your cervix with a brush, dunks the brush into a liquid medium, and then spins the liquid so everything extraneous washes away. Sure, your gyno might see the evidence of last night’s romp, but she won’t care. If you think you’ll be embarrassed, hold off on sex or use a condom.
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To help your doc help youand to make sure you don’t forget to bring up that nagging itchmake a list of your questions and concerns, current medications and supplements, and any new drug allergies or medical issues. And be clear about what you want from the exam. Do you want a diagnosis? Simple info? Or, if you’re experiencing a difficult health issue, do you just want to know that someone is on your side? It’s your job to set the agenda. Jot down the doc’s answers, too. Dr. Rackner points out that it’s understandably difficult to remember what’s being said during an appointment. If you’re a visual learner, ask your gyno to write down the important info or even draw a picture. If you learn by listening, bring along a tape recorder. And if you learn by doing, ask the doc to watch and comment as you, say, give yourself a breast exam.
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Yes, ask about that!
Whether it’s strange smells, weird gastro symptoms, or sex issues, getting them out in the open is likely to ease your mind. And rest assured that your gyno has heard it all before. So, you want to know about vaginal versus clitoral orgasms? How perimenopause might affect your libido? Where your G-spot is? Why your husband likes to do that? “It’s absolutely appropriate to ask,” Dr. King says. “Some docs will feel comfortable answering the questions, and some will refer you to a sex therapist to address more-serious issues or concerns.”
The payoff can be huge. “If a woman would really talk to her gynecologist the way she talks to her girlfriends,” Dr. Rackner says, “she’d have the best visit of her life.”
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