A trip to the gynaecologist is perhaps not every woman’s dream pastime. Gynaecologists know this, and they can get quite frustrated at some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding their work. It’s important you have a good relationship with your doctor, as regular check-ups can make a real difference to your quality of life - hey, they might even save it.
Here are the seven most important messages gynaecologists want you to know.
1. We’re not just here for emergencies
The usual way British women meet their gynaecologist is when something goes wrong, or there is something immediate that needs attention - such as a baby is on its way! Looking after your health and wellbeing is something that should be part of your everyday life, as it is in many other European countries such as France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where regular health checks are the norm. Often, when young women are still in their teens, they will book a gynaecology check-up, talk about contraception and get to know their doctor. This, is seen not only as the best form of preventative medicine, but a way of ironing out any health concerns, pain or discomfort, in order to enhance your quality of life and bring peace of mind. Whether you want help with a diagnosis, or health screening to weigh up your risk of developing a particular condition, your gynaecologist wants to help.
2. We want to make your experience as good as possible
While it's true, having a smear test or an examination is never going to be up on anyone's list of 'fun things to do', by having a gynaecologist you trust you'll eliminate a lot of the anxiety that goes along with an examination. Choosing a gynaecologist who understands that the experience of an examination should be positive and discomfort-free is paramount. The latest minimally-invasive techniques in gynaecology, means procedures (such as myomectomy and ablation) that would have once meant a serious operation with a six week recovery period, can now be performed in treatment rooms rather that surgical theatres with oral pain relief and local anaesthetic. Interestingly, patients rate these procedures (often referred to as office gynaecology), as less painful than recovery from conventional surgery. Research has shown that when patients are asked to rate levels of discomfort experienced during office gynaecology procedures, they rate them between 1 or 2 out of ten (with ten been the most painful). Patients are fully awake and able to talk to their doctor and observe the procedure if they wish. Risks and recovery time are significantly reduced.
3. Your body won’t phase us
Women worry about trips to the gynaecologist, but trust us, your doctor won't bat an eyelid if you haven't waxed, or you're concerned that things aren't right 'down there'. This is part and parcel of the gynaecologist's job. You may feel awkward discussing intimate details about your body with your family GP, or any fears you have about your health. Whether you're concerned about family planning, female personal health or symptoms of menopause, nothing will surprise an experienced gynaecologist, who is used to seeing a range of problems that are often of a delicate nature.
4. There are ways to stop heavy periods
Periods really can be a curse, especially if they are heavy or painful. Your gynaecologist will have solutions to make your periods lighter or stop the bleeding entirely. Your doctor may suggest you use the Mirena coil, which can minimise heavy bleeding. Other solutions include tranexamic acid tablets, taken for 3-4 days a month cause blood in the womb to clot. If medication doesn’t work for you, there are treatments involving minimally invasive day surgery, including myomectomy or endometrial ablation. Both procedures are performed within a few minutes, and after a short recovery time, women usually leave the clinic with an hour or so. The MyoSure hysteroscopic procedure can be used to remove fibroids without any cuts or scars, at the same time they’re identified.
5. Symptoms of the menopause can be treated
Women who experience the menopause, in their late 40s or early 50s, have to cope with fluctuating hormone levels, which can cause life-disrupting symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, mood swings, insomnia and vaginal dryness. Making changes to your lifestyle and diet can help counter some of these, as exercising generates feel-good endorphins which lift and stabilise mood, as well as building bone density, while cutting out sugary foods that cause mood swings and eating plenty of vegetables can balance hormones. If symptoms are still a problem, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might help. A recent review of a long-term study by the US Women’s Health Initiative concluded that any risks of taking hormones were off-set by the protective health benefits of HRT, and women shouldn’t miss out on being offered it. However, some women are unable or unwilling to take HRT, especially if they have suffered breast or ovarian cancer or have a strong family history of these diseases in their families. Leading gynaecologists have solutions to troubling menopausal issues, such as vaginal dryness, including The MonaLisa Touch Laser (MLT). This treatment is a painless and fast procedure which delivers fractional CO2 laser energy to the vaginal wall tissue, via tiny dots. This stimulates new collagen and restores moisture to the area, adding tone and helping to deal with Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause.
6. Don’t panic about that smear test result
If your smear test comes back saying that abnormal cells have been found, don’t panic. This doesn't necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. An inadequate sample, blood from a period or contamination from a minor infection could be to blame. The test will simply be done again. However, 10% of women will have changes to the cells on the cervix. This is an immune response called dyskaryosis; usually caused by HPV, a common virus that many of us become infected with. Low grade dyskaryosis, indicates mild cell changes. Cell alterations which are more evident are referred to as moderate or high grade dyskaryosis. This isn’t cancer, it is a sign that it may lead to cervical cancer. What your gynaecologist does next, depends on the level of dyskaryosis. Often subsequent smear tests show the body has managed to deal with the dyskaryosis its self, and no other treatment is required. In other cases, a colposcopy examination will be offered, for peace of mind. Find out more about colposcopy here.
7. But don’t forget your smear test either!
A smear test, or cervical screening, where a swab is taken of cells from the cervix, is a simple but highly effective method of helping to prevent cervical cancer from developing. And doctors agree that if cancer is detected, then treating it early is the best way of ensuring the best outcome. Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer under the age of 35. Every year around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. If abnormal cells are found, your doctor may send you for a colposcopy , where a doctor takes a closer look at the cervix, and if needed, can treat abnormal cervical cancer cells with LLETZ. This is an abbreviation for Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone. The procedure cuts the tissue and seals the wound at the same time. The whole procedure takes about 15-20 minutes and you can go home the same day.
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary