How to Prepare for a Visit to the Gynecologist

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Whether your annual checkup is around the corner or you’re headed to the gynecologist to get help with a medical issue, there are several things you can do (or avoid doing) beforehand to make the visit as streamlined as possible.

Don't schedule your appointment during your period

If your visit involves a pelvic exam, it’s best to not be on your period, said Candace Howe, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. Blood may interfere with results of tests you may need, such as a Pap test. Exceptions: Certain situations (e.g., heavy/irregular periods) may make a visit on your period inevitable or necessary, Dr. Howe said. When in doubt, call and ask.

Reconsider pelvic grooming

Scheduling a bikini wax? Maybe hold off until after the exam. Same goes for other hair removal methods. Sometimes, Dr. Howe said, hair removal can cause swelling or inflammation that may make a pelvic exam more challenging. And remember: Your doctor isn’t judging you for having hair down there.

Don't douche

While you may feel embarrassed about vaginal discharge or odors, douching can create more problems than it solves. “Discharge helps me understand a woman’s hormonal balance, so if she artificially changes it before she comes in, I could miss [hormone issues] or a shift in her flora, a bacterial imbalance, or yeast problem,” Dr. Howe said.

Don't have sex the night before

Having sex before a pelvic exam may also make your doctor’s job more difficult, Dr. Howe said. Especially if you are having a Pap test, avoid intercourse within the two days before the appointment to ensure test results are as accurate as possible. Similarly, don’t use vaginal lubrication products beforehand.

Keep track of your cycle

You know your doctor will ask, “When was the first day of your last period?” Make it easier on yourself and your gynecologist by being prepared to answer this question. Whether you use the calendar in your phone, a physical planner, or even a menstrual cycle tracking app, Dr. Howe said, make sure you’re tracking your periods.

Bring your medical records

Ensure the doctor’s office has your medical records before your visit. “Patients come in saying, ‘I had this ultrasound at this one place this one time …’ and we spend days to weeks calling offices trying to get faxed records,” Dr. Howe said. Pro tip: Create your own medical file at home so you can always make copies to bring with you, she said.

Don't be embarrassed

You may feel nervous about having to show your doctor certain areas of your body — and that’s understandable. But psyching yourself out before an exam because of these nerves is wasted energy. “For a gynecologist, this is something we’re so used to, that we see day in and day out … we see it so clinically and nonjudgmentally,” Dr. Howe said.

Come prepared with a list of questions

Do you ever kick yourself after a doctor’s visit for forgetting to ask that one question you’ve been dying to ask? “Feel free to write down questions, even over the year between visits, so you don’t forget,” Dr. Howe said. “I’m happy to answer questions from my patients. That’s my job, and I love it when patients are invested in their health.”

… And especially the embarrassing questions

Dr. Howe said she wants women to feel comfortable discussing things that may feel embarrassing to them when they’re in their OB-GYN’s office. “If you’re too shy to talk about it, then you kind of miss out on this opportunity of this valuable professional who could really put your mind at ease or help you if there is an issue,” she said.