Ladies, a question for you: when was the last time you saw your ob-gyn? Many women might feel embarrassed or guilty when asked this, simply because it’s been so long since their last pap smear or mammogram. It’s understandable that you feel this way — after all, the very idea of staring down that cold steel speculum again is cause for some of us to clamp our knees together and change the subject — but it’s important to take care of your reproductive and overall health. Let’s take a look at the reasons why.

When and How Often Should You Visit a Gynecologist?

There are some differing opinions on this matter. Some experts say it’s important to have a pelvic exam every year, while others say that once every two or three years is adequate if a woman is healthy and has no history of breast cancer, cervical cancer, abnormal pap smears, or other problem. If you have insurance, there’s really no harm in an annual visit. You may have questions for your ob-gyn, or you might simply want to be proactive about your health.

Young women should have their first gynecologic exam beginning between ages 13-15, according to the clinicians at South Valley Women’s Health Care, P.C. Teenagers don’t usually need pap smears until they reach their early 20s, but it is always smart to establish a good relationship with one’s on-gyn — and one’s reproductive system — beginning at an early age. Additionally, a gynecologist’s office can feel like a safe place to ask questions and get advice that is compassionate but objective.

What Health Issues Can an Ob-gyn Help With?

Before you go to your annual visit, make a list of any issues you wish to discuss with your ob-gyn. It’s important to find a provider who will sit down with you and give you their full attention, so if your doc tries to rush through a visit or doesn’t seem to take your concerns seriously, it’s time to find a new clinic.

Here are some of the most common reasons women make an appointment with their ob-gyn:

Birth Control
If you are sexually active and have male partners, birth control should top the list of reasons to go to the ob-gyn. Your doctor will discuss the options with you and help you make an informed decision about which is best for you.

Think you might be pregnant? Your ob-gyn can give you a pregnancy test, and if it is positive, get you started on prenatal care. This is an essential step to ensure the health of both you and your baby. Naturally, a pregnant woman will require more checkups, some with specialists, so your obstetrician will talk over a treatment plan with you.

Screenings for Cancer
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can be devastating, but both diseases are treatable, particularly if they are caught when the cancer is in an early stage. That is why it’s so crucial to have regular screenings for breast, cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancer.

Menstrual Health
A regular menstrual cycle is a sign that all is well in your body. And while all of us occasionally have a particularly crampy cycle, pain that interferes with your daily activities or that occurs between periods should be checked out. There are a wide variety of conditions — some minor, others serious — that can cause issues such as unusual bleeding, irregular periods, severe emotional symptoms, or intense pain.

Hormone Replacement Therapy
As women age, their bodies produce less estrogen and other hormones. This can lead to symptoms of perimenopause such as hot flashes, insomnia, emotional upheaval, vaginal dryness, and irregular periods. Hormone replacement therapy can ease a woman’s transition into menopause.

Gynecologists can also assist with issues like incontinence, painful sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, mental health, vaccinations, and more. Because women’s physiology is markedly different from men’s, your ob-gyn may well have insights or experience that your primary care physician does not, and therefore be a good place to start with just about any physical concern you may have. She or he can refer you to other specialists as necessary.

It might not be the most pleasant afternoon you’ll ever spend, but knowing that your body is healthy will definitely feel good — so don’t put off that ob-gyn appointment any longer.