|Respecting your reproductive health|
Be on the lookout
Two of the most common causes of infertility can be detected and treated early by your gynecologist, often restoring the ability to conceive.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
What it is: an infection that starts in the cervix and may spread to other organs. PID may cause infertility and may even be life threatening.
- lower abdominal pain or tenderness
- heavy vaginal discharge with a strong odor
- irregular or heavy menstrual periods
- pain during intercourse
- frequent, painful urination
- fatigue, back pain, diarrhea or vomiting
What it is: a disease in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, implanting itself on other organs, such as the fallopian tubes and the intestines. The condition causes painful periods, cramps and fertility problems.
- painful, heavy or irregular periods
- chronic pelvic pain or abdominal tenderness
- painful intercourse
- lower back pain
- painful bowel movements during periods
- inability to conceive
If you experience any symptoms of PID or endometriosis, see your gynecologist or primary care physician right away.
You probably keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, and those 10 a.m. meetings may get the star treatment. But when it comes to your reproductive health, how up to date are you?
Sometimes a woman decides to skip her annual visit to her gynecologist out of embarrassment or the belief that “just this once” is okay. “Next year,” she promises herself. Although most women ages 20 to 39 receive a clean bill of health, gambling with your reproductive health is risky. Untreated conditions, such as endometriosis, can lead to infertility, while others, such as cancer, may be life threatening. Performing regular self-exams—and keeping your doctor appointments—can help you stay in touch with your body and catch any problems while they’re most treatable.
Every woman who turns 18 should receive an annual gynecological checkup. But before you go, you can do a few things to ensure more accurate test results:
Check the time. The ideal time to schedule your annual exam is 10 to 14 days after the first day of menstruation. During this phase of your hormonal cycle, your breasts won’t be as tender or lumpy as they might be other days. Your cervix is more open, allowing for more accurate sample results.
Remove roadblocks. A number of factors, including douching, medications and spermicides can interfere with Pap test results.
Write it down. Jot down your concerns to show your doctor.
Your annual gynecological exam
First you’ll be weighed and asked for a urine sample. After you change into an exam gown, your doctor may feel your throat to check if your thyroid is enlarged and listen to your heart and lungs. Then your doctor will move on to the four basic tests that comprise the exam:
- The pelvic exam. Your physician will check for any discharge, sores, bumps or skin changes. He or she will gently place a warm, lubricated speculum (a sterile examination tool) into the opening of your vagina to look for any lesions or abnormal discharge.
- The Pap test. The Pap smear can detect early signs of cancer by identifying cell changes on the cervix. Sometimes it can identify other infections, including sexually transmitted diseases.
- The digital rectal exam. During this part of the exam, your doctor will place a gloved, lubricated finger in your rectum to feel for any tumors or abnormalities.
- The clinical breast exam. Your doctor will use his or her hands to examine your breasts. He or she may use a circular or an up-and-down pattern to check for lumps, skin changes, nipple discharge or other abnormalities. Your doctor may also ask you to undergo a mammography to detect tumors before they can be felt by hand.
If you’re planning on having a baby, it’s important to prepare your body. Exercise. Enjoy a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables and take a daily folic-acid supplement to help prevent birth defects. Cut back on alcohol, stub out cigarettes and avoid using nonprescription drugs without your doctor’s consent. Research suggests you can help boost fertility by reducing stress, so if you’re trying to conceive, relax your body and mind.
© 2014 Dowden Health Media