Understanding Your Health

Q’s You’re Embarrassed to Ask Your Gynecologist (But Should)

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

It’s not easy to let your guard down. It takes a lot to be comfortable enough with yourself to ask very personal questions of your gynecologist. Anastasia Arab, D.O., an OB/GYN at Henry Ford Health System, completely understands why so many women are reluctant to bring up uncomfortable questions during their annual exam, whether it’s with a gynecologist or with a primary care doctor or certified nurse midwife who is caring for your women’s health needs.

“I don’t know anyone that looks forward to a visit with the gynecologist,” she says. “But it’s important to remember that we try to treat our exam rooms like a sacred sanctuary – what is discussed there stays there.”

Here are several topics Dr. Arab finds patients are often too embarrassed to ask about:

Unusual vaginal smell or discharge. This is one of the most commonly asked questions during gynecologist visits. “The type of discharge you experience may vary depending on where you are your monthly cycle,” says Dr. Arab. “It is completely natural for you to see thicker, or more mucus-like discharge at times.” It is important to remember the vagina is self-cleaning. This means that using lotion or cleansing with harsh substances can throw off your body’s balance. This can cause changes in smell or discharge. Any signs of itching, burning or pain may be signs of an infection. To prevent, do not use perfumed soaps and lotions when cleaning yourself. Consider wearing cotton underwear and avoid tight fitting pants. Ill-fitting clothing or certain fabrics can promote the retention of moisture – which can lead to infection.

Bladder problems. This issue affects both men and women alike! Specifically, for women, it is common to have problems with leaking urine. This can be caused by urgency to use the bathroom or even laughing, coughing, or exercising. Depending on the severity, there are different options for you to find relief. Your doctor may recommend exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles. In other cases, medication, personalized medical devices or surgery may be options for you.

Changes or problems with sex. There are many issues that can cause a loss of sex drive or pain during intercourse. Pelvic therapy and sexual health specialists may provide relief to patients with any physical condition that prevents them from having a happy sex life. “Sometimes, issues with sex arise from traumatic experiences with intercourse,” says Dr. Arab. In this case, resources are available to provide protection and advocacy for any patient subjected to trauma or abuse.

Confusion about birth control. It is important to be educated about all aspects of family planning. Knowing your options and deciding what is best for you is essential. Every woman is different, meaning one type of birth control doesn’t work for everyone. In addition to talking with your provider, Dr. Arab recommends using bedsider.org to evaluate different options and answer questions about the effectiveness and side effects of each option. “We offer a full range of contraceptive options,” says Dr. Arab. “Long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods such as implants and IUDs have been proven to reduce undesired pregnancies in all ages.”

Concerns about STIs or STDs. No one wants to be told they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or disease (STD), but it is important to identify and treat it to prevent the condition from getting worse. Fortunately, many common infections are treatable or preventable. For example, a vaccination is available for people ages 9-26 to prevent the human papilloma virus (HPV). It is recommended that if you are sexually active, you should consider an annual STD screening. This is especially recommended if you have multiple sexual partners. Depending on the type of STD being tested for, a urine sample, genital swab or blood work may be necessary. If you are concerned about STDs or are looking for specific information, visit the Center for Disease Control website. And, of course, talk with your doctor or midwife.

Going to the gynecologist doesn’t have to be scary or embarrassing. Asking questions about your health shouldn’t be something you avoid. The next time you go in for your annual exam, take a deep breath. “We want nothing more than to help you feel comfortable talking to us,” says Dr. Arab. “Chances are you are not the only person with that question.” If you have a concern that you are too embarrassed about, consider scheduling a consultation visit. Some issues you may have can be addressed without any need for a physical exam.

To find a doctor or midwife at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Anastasia Arab is an OB/GYN and sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

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