Have you seen your gynecologist lately? It is recommended that every woman beginning at the age of 21 and until the age of 65 be screened for cervical cancer regularly. However, the relationship you develop with you gynecologist will serve you well beyond your annual wellness visit, as they become your primary healthcare provider for all of your women’s healthcare needs. Your gynecologist can advise you about health promotion and disease prevention, on birth control, as well as see you through your pregnancy. They will also be there for you when the unexpected arises, to address your concerns and treat any problems. However, there are times when you should contact your gynecologist sooner, rather than later. The following list includes reasons that you should see your gynecologist urgently.
Your uterus has two layers, the thin inner layer called the endometrium, and the thicker muscular layer called the myometrium. During a normal menstrual cycle, the endometrium thickens in preparation for a potential pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, this thin lining is shed during your menstrual period. After adolescence, the length and amount of your period should become pretty regular and will continue, unless you are pregnant, until menopause. Any time excessive or erratic bleeding occurs outside your usual menstrual pattern, it is considered abnormal. However, the potential causes of this abnormality can vary depending on your age and stage in life.
After their initial menstrual period, adolescents may have an erratic pattern of menses, however once the pattern is established, there are a number of different reasons for irregular bleeding. It may be as simple as hormone fluctuations. However, benign masses and polyps can cause excessive bleeding, which can eventually lead to excessive blood loss and anemia. Other signs or symptoms associated with irregular bleeding may also offer clues as to the cause. For instance, pain may indicate that you have an infection.
Additionally, any woman in childbearing age should consider the possibility of pregnancy when they experience abnormal bleeding. In fact, if the bleeding is accompanied by pain, it may be a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. This constitutes a medical emergency and you should be seen by your gynecologist, or in the emergency room immediately.
Menopause is defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Any uterine bleeding after this time is abnormal and should be evaluated. The cause may be simply irritation of dry thinning vaginal tissue; however, cancer is always a concern at this age. Any woman who is post-menopausal and experiences vaginal bleeding should see her gynecologist right away.
Severe Pelvic or Lower Abdominal Pain
While there are various medical conditions that can cause pelvic or lower abdominal pain, there are two causes in particular that should have you see your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, and involves a spreading of infection and inflammation to all the female organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and vagina. If untreated, it can lead to chronic pelvic pain, and even infertility. Any woman who is sexually active is at risk of developing PID, so it is important to be aware of what to look for. The symptoms include pain in the lower belly that is usually worse with sexual intercourse, fever, chills, vaginal discharge, spotting, and pain during a pelvic exam. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your gynecologist.
An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency. After an egg is fertilized by sperm, it travels through the fallopian tubes and implants in the uterus where it will be nourished as the fetus grows. However, sometimes the egg does not make it into the uterus. The majority of ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube, but it can also occur elsewhere. The reason this can be an emergency, is if the organ where the egg is implanted ruptures, there can be severe internal bleeding, shock, and even death.
Any sexually active woman who is of childbearing age who experiences vaginal bleeding, a missed period, and abdominal pain should seek immediate medical care. This usually occurs by the 8th week of pregnancy, when many women may not be aware that they are pregnant yet. Additional symptoms you might experience are those of pregnancy – morning sickness, fatigue, breast tenderness and swelling, or frequent urination. However, severe abdominal pain may be your only sign, so make sure to see your gynecologist (or go to the emergency room) right away.
Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Abnormal, or foul smelling vaginal discharge, sometimes along with itching, burning, or painful urination or sexual intercourse, usually indicates some type of infection. This can be anything from a yeast infection, to a sexually transmitted illness (STI). If you experience any of the following more common signs and symptom, you should contact your gynecologist, because the cause of your symptoms will determine the correct treatment.
A yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis) is the second most common cause of vaginal irritation. The symptoms include vaginal itching and burning, soreness, irritation and burning with urination. There may be little or no discharge, but if there is discharge, it is typically thick, white and clumpy, with no odor.
Bacterial Vaginosis is not classified as an STI, but it frequently affects sexually active women, especially those with multiple partners. This illness does not usually cause itching or burning, however, there is a characteristic vaginal discharge that is thin and white, and has a very unpleasant “fishy” odor to it.
Trichomoniasis is an STI that if left untreated, can cause chronic inflammation, PID and infertility. The most common symptoms include a thin, foul smelling vaginal discharge, as well as itching, burning, painful urination, lower abdominal pain, and pain with sexual intercourse.
Chlamydia is the most common STI and if left untreated, can lead to PID. The infection can also be spread to other areas of the body including the eyes and throat. The majority of women who have chlamydia have no symptoms at all, but if you experience a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, burning with urination, or pain during sex, you should contact your gynecologist.
Gonorrhea is the second most common bacterial STI and can also lead to PID if untreated. A woman with this illness often has no symptoms, but if you experience vaginal itching and thick green vaginal discharge, as well as spotting or pain during sexual intercourse, you should consult your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Sores or Blisters
The genitalherpes simplex virus is the cause of an STI that results in extremely painful blisters in the genital area. Other symptoms may include painful urination, itching, fever, swollen lymph nodes in the groin and general fatigue and achiness. This is a highly contagious STI that will continue to flare throughout your lifetime periodically. If you develop any blisters, you should contact your gynecologist right away to get the proper treatment to help an active infection go away and to try to prevent future flares.
New Breast Lump
Every woman should be inspecting their breasts regularly and if you find any lumps it is important to call your gynecologist to be evaluated. Some lumps may be benign, or caused by hormonal fluctuations, but every new one should be addressed because cancer is always a risk. This is particularly true if you develop a bloody discharge, particularly from only one breast.
It is important that you have a gynecologist that you trust to address your all women’s healthcare needs. If you have any questions, are experiencing any concerning symptoms, or are just interested in finding out more about the services we offer, call the caring experts at University OB/GYN Associates in Syracuse, NY. We are happy to address all of your women’s health issues with you. Call (315) 464-5162 today or request an appointment online.