For many women, the days are filled with work and family responsibilities, which often pushes self-care routines to the wayside. But it’s important to remember that taking care of ourselves — whether it be by spending time alone, doing yoga or catching up on sleep — allows the reset we need in order to show up fully for others.
Self-care should also include staying on top of our physical health, according to Christina Krudy, MD, a MetroHealth obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). “Obstetricians tend to be the primary care provider for a lot of women, so we offer plenty of important health services,” she said.
It may be time to schedule your annual exam. Your OB-GYN will cover health issues such as:
Menstrual cycle health: OB-GYNs can address issues such as infrequent periods or heavy or prolonged bleeding. Your doctor may suggest taking birth control pills or lifestyle changes like healthy eating and regular exercise.
Sexual health and function: Your sexual history can help your doctor decide what sexually transmitted disease screening is necessary. In addition, sexual function, or the ability to enjoy sex, may change after childbirth or as you approach menopause. Your doctor may recommend pelvic floor therapy or other treatments to improve sexual function.
Contraception: Nowadays, there are many types of birth control, including oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs), injections and more. Based on your health history and what is most important to you, your OB-GYN can offer the best option to help you with family planning.
Pregnancy: Are you pregnant or considering starting a family? Your OB-GYN is with you from preconception through delivery and beyond, and can also offer options if you are having trouble becoming pregnant.
Cervical cancer screening: You doctor will perform a Pap smear and HPV test about every three years, depending on your age and prior results.
HPV vaccination: This vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer and is available to adolescent girls ages 11 to 12 years and women up to 26 years old if they haven’t been vaccinated. Adults aged 27 to 45 years can discuss getting the vaccine with their doctor.
Pelvic exam: Your doctor will discuss the need for a pelvic exam, based on your health history and any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Clinical breast exam: Your doctor may give you a breast exam every one to three years, based on your breast cancer risk.
Mammogram: Your OB-GYN can refer you for a mammogram every year and discuss when and how often you should be screened.
Weight management: Changes in your weight can affect the regularity of your menstrual cycle or ability to get pregnant, so your doctor may talk to you about healthy eating and exercise.
Cholesterol and blood pressure: Your OB-GYN can check your blood pressure to see if it’s in a healthy range and order blood work to check your cholesterol levels to ensure good cardiovascular health.
Diabetes screening: Your OB-GYN may order blood work to test for diabetes if your weight or family history places you at an increased risk for the condition.
Mental health: A routine mental health check to see if you feel safe at home or have felt depressed in the last two weeks may be part or your annual exam.
Smoking: If you smoke, your doctor will talk to you about kicking the habit and refer you to a smoking cessation program.
Colon cancer screening: Your OB-GYN can discuss when to start colon cancer screening and the different screening options available.
Older Women and the OB-GYN
It may seem unclear how often, or if at all, you should be seeing your OB-GYN once you reach a certain age. But many screenings should continue even after menopause, such as mammograms, colon and cervical cancer and diabetes screenings, mental and sexual health check, and more.
“Women may skip OB-GYN appointments because of recent changes in recommendations for how often Pap smears are needed and confusion over whether or not to get a clinical breast exam, and since many view their gynecologist as the primary doctor they see, this can be problematic,” said Paula Hendryx, MD.
“Regular check-ups with an OB-GYN are important, especially as you become older,” added Sally MacPhedran, MD, noting that menopause can impact many aspects of your health.
Here are some additional things older women can expect at their OB-GYN appointment:
Pelvic exam: You doctor can discuss the need for a pelvic exam, based on your health history and any symptoms you may be experiencing. These exams may be useful for finding ovarian cancer, pelvic organ prolapse and changes in the skin of the vulva, which may include ulcers and precancerous lesions.
Menopause management: As you approach menopause, decreasing hormones may impact mood and cause symptoms such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, brain fog and vaginal dryness. Decreases in estrogen can also affect your heart and bone health and increase the risk of incontinence and Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor can help you manage your health as your move through menopause with approaches such as diet, exercise and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). You may be a candidate for FDA-approved forms of bioidentical HRT that can be beneficial and safe.
Vaginal bleeding: If you experience bleeding after menopause, contact your OB-GYN. The cause of bleeding could be completely harmless, but it could also be a sign of uterine or cervical cancer.
Osteoporosis screening: Bone density typically decreases after menopause. Your doctor can discuss the benefits of screening for osteoporosis after age 65 or sooner depending on risk factors such as smoking. A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan can be performed every three years or more frequently.
Cholesterol and blood pressure checks: Your OB-GYN can check your blood pressure to see if it’s in a healthy range and order blood work to check your cholesterol levels to ensure good cardiovascular health.