For many women, the gyno is the doctor they visit most frequently. For some, it might even be their only doctor. While few women look forward to this annual visit (ugh, those stirrups), most seem to recognize its value for their health.
An annual women’s health exam is crucial for detecting conditions like reproductive disorders, breast cancer or cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is also a great chance for younger women to ask questions about birth control options, or for older women to discuss menopause or hormone replacement therapy.
To ensure your gyno gets the best screenshot of your health, there are some guidelines to make the annual gyn exam more effective:
Keep a healthy journal or calendar throughout the year. Track your periods and instances of abnormal discharge or pain. Even an irregular period could be a useful conversation to have with your gyno.
If possible, schedule your annual exam two weeks after your period. Gynos are totally cool with your period (they’ve seen it all!), but your “flow days” tend to be a time when your breasts are more sensitive and swollen. By scheduling your appointment later, the breast exam will be more comfortable for you and easier for your gyno to detect any abnormalities. Plus, it eliminates any chance that your period will affect your Pap smear (science is still iffy on whether it messes with your results or not).
Avoid any vaginal cleansing items (i.e. douches) or lubricants for three days before your exam. These items have been shown to affect test results. (TBH, most docs don’t recommend douching—ever—because it messes with the good bacteria in the vagina and can lead to infections.)
Skip the sex—but just for 24 hours beforehand. Again, it goes back to the Pap smear: Semen or spermicides can make it harder for your gyno to detect abnormalities in your cervix cells.
Following these four tips can help your ob-gyn give you the best care possible. Plus, nobody wants to make a follow-up appointment because the doc wasn’t able to complete a proper exam, so it’s best to prepare and do it right the first time.