Marlan Schwartz, M.D.
On September 26, 2012, over 1,000 groups across the nation will host women’s health and fitness events at a variety of locations, including senior centers, hospitals, health clubs, parks, local health and service organizations, schools, and community centers, to celebrate National Women’s Health & Fitness Day. This year’s theme, “Being Active is a Healthy Choice,” aims to educate women on the importance of regular physical activity and raise awareness of female health issues.
While female health can certainly be a sensitive topic to discuss, it’s important to remain educated and proactive about protecting yourself and the important women in your life from risks. In honor of National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, I encourage you to consider the following advice for maintaining and monitoring your health. Knowing when to start visiting a gynecologist, how to prepare for visits, and what to ask will only leave you feeling more comfortable discussing the important topics.
- Start seeing a gynecologist earlier rather than later. Most girls should have their first gynecology appointment when they are about 14 - 15 years old. At age 14, girls may feel too old to see a pediatrician, and they might also begin taking an interest in boys, making it necessary to discuss sex-related issues with a gynecologist. Scheduling your daughter’s first appointment before she becomes sexually active enables her to begin developing a relationship with her doctor in a more relaxed setting, without it being a problem visit, and allows for effective discussions on disease screening and prevention methods.
- Be prepared. Some people like to gather information, while others prefer to go in blind to their first gynecologist visit. Whatever your preference may be, it is important to have a good grasp of your family medical history to help doctors treat you more effectively. Don’t be embarrassed about addressing any concerns or issues you have, and prepare questions in advance that you’d like to ask your gynecologist. This will help you feel more comfortable during the visit and ensure you don’t forget anything. Find more information on preparing for the first visit at: http://teens.webmd.com/girls-puberty-10/gynecologist-visit.
- Schedule regular visits to your gynecologist. Visiting your doctor regularly is essential in preventing, diagnosing and treating female conditions and diseases. Most women should visit their gynecologist at least once a year. However, this recommendation varies depending on medications you’re taking or if there is a continuing concern or problem you have, which may require more frequent visits.
- Choose a physician wisely. Comfort level is key! You need to be open and honest with your gynecologist, so choosing the physician who can relate to you in your comfort zone is extremely important. Identify factors that are most significant to you, and choose a physician that fits your preferred criteria, to ensure comfort and trust at each visit. Some may feel they must have a male or female, but that often becomes unimportant in the big picture.
- Be proactive. In between your visits, monitor your health by recording any concerns involving your menstrual cycle, pains, breast concerns, or sexual activity in a journal, and bring the journal to your next visit. It is also essential to perform self-breast exams each month, right after your menstruation, and monitor for changes. If you find any lumps, thickenings, or other changes, particularly if they are persistent, you should contact your physician immediately. Ask your gynecologist how to perform a self-breast exam, or for more information and step-by-step instructions, visit http://www.somersetmedicalcenter.com/body_steeplechase.cfm?id=289
- Know your options. In the event that you are diagnosed with a female health illness that requires medical attention or surgery, it is important to educate yourself and be proactive in choosing the best treatment with your physician. Technological advancements in medicine have helped to provide several options for treatment, allowing you to explore the treatment choices you may have. For example, enhanced technology allows doctors to perform robotic surgery, a minimally invasive, yet very precise procedure, for many gynecological health issues.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle. In addition to regularly visiting your gynecologist, make a conscious effort to lead a healthy lifestyle. Try to establish a well-balanced diet, maintain your ideal weight, exercise regularly, drink alcohol in moderation only, practice safe sex, and refrain from smoking.
I encourage women of all ages to celebrate National Women’s Health & Fitness Day by further educating yourself and the important women in your life on female health concerns and the steps to take to stay happy and healthy.
Marlan Schwartz, M.D., FACOG, is a robotic surgeon and chief of OB/GYN at Somerset Medical Center.