Taking care of your health is crucial, but it's hard to know where to start. It's easy to have a million little concerns about your health on a day-to-day basis, only to draw a blank when the doc asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" But by learning more about the things all women should ask their doctors, you can go to your next appointment fully prepared. Even if the questions are potentially personal or embarrassing, it's so important to protect your most precious resource: your health.
Because the field of women's healthcare advances so quickly, it's ok (and even expected) if you're unfamiliar with the latest advances in vaccines or birth control. Even a few years of progress can create a whole world of change in medicine and healthcare, so it's always wise to have a doctor's up-to-date advice about any concerns.
To learn more about the crucial health questions you should ask a doctor, Romper spoke with Leah Millheiser, M.D., FACOG, a Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Millheiser was candid and upfront about these common health concerns that women may overlook, drawing on her own day-to-day conversations with patients. Pull up this list at your next appointment to make sure you have the most productive conversation with your doctor about your current health.
1. What about the HPV vaccine?
Don't overlook this important vaccine. A lot of millennials did not get the original HPV vaccine, which was approved for people up into their mid-20s. But there's a newer version of the HPV vaccine now that you can get into your 40s, as Dr. Millheiser explains. Definitely ask your doctor whether you're a candidate for this one, because the vaccine can protect you against new strains of HPV, potentially the ones that can cause cancer, according to Bustle.
2. What screenings should I get done?
It's important to be proactive about your health. Bring up any family history of health conditions, diseases, or any other concerns with your doctor, as explained by BlackDoctor, Inc. You may need to get routine tests or screenings earlier than average.
3. What are my fertility options right now?
If you might want more kids in the future (or don't have any yet), then go ahead and have the fertility talk with your doctor. Young women in their early 30s who want children later in life may want to discuss cryopreservation options with their doctor, says Dr. Millheiser. There's a small but growing number of millennial women who are using cryopreservation (AKA freezing their eggs). It's a way to be proactive about your future reproductive health, even when your immediate plans don't include any new babies.
4. How do my medications react with one another?
Tell your doctor about any and all medications you're currently taking. Even vitamins and supplements can have interactions with prescription medications. For instance, fish oil or Ginkgo biloba can increase the risk of bleeding, particularly when combined with blood-thinning medications. Make sure your doc has a full picture of your current meds and other supplements.
5. Am I using the best contraception for me?
Contraception technology has come a long way in recent years, so you might want to learn more about the newest options. Definitely bring up any vaginal issues with your doctor, who may recommend switching to a different pill or IUD, as Dr. Millheiser explains.
6. Am I using the best menstrual care products?
Period care has also advanced a lot in recent years, so it may be time to switch from the same brand of pads you've used forever. "I always talk to my patients about menstrual issues," says Dr. Millheiser.
There are so many options for menstrual care out now, including menstrual cups, disks, and even period underwear. "A lot of women don't even know," adds Dr. Millheiser. Washable sanitary pads, tampon and liner combos, and even subscription boxes are a just a few of the recent advances in period care products, according to Bustle.
7. How's my weight?
Docs are becoming more and more sensitive to the fact that this can be a difficult topic for many people to bring up. "People are so reluctant to seek help because weight is complicated and attached to a lot of emotions," said Silvana Pannain, M.D., endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist who runs Chicago Weight, UChicago Medicine’s comprehensive medical weight loss program. It's a touchy subject for many people, but if you're going to discuss your weight with anyone, then your doctor is an excellent choice.
8. What's up with my low libido?
Sure, it may feel a bit embarrassing to approach the sex topic with your family doc. But if you have any concerns about sexual function, low libido, or anything else in this area, then definitely bring it up with your doctor, as Dr. Millheiser explains. It's another big component to your health.
9. What emergency contraception should I use?
Review which emergency contraception options are best for your body. Most people are only aware of Plan B, but there's also a prescription option available, says Dr. Millheiser. In addition, Plan B may not be the most effective option for everybody. "Progesterone-only contraception are only truly effective in women with a BMI of less than 25. Those may not be very effective for you if you’re overweight," says Dr. Millheiser. For people with a BMI of 25 or greater, options such as ella or a copper IUD may be more effective.
10. How can I practice safe sex?
Sexual health and safety is a lifelong pursuit. "HIV is still out there. Genital herpes is still out there. Safe sex is as important today as it was in the 80s and 90s," says Dr. Millheiser, adding that HIV can still be fatal if it goes untreated. (Although there is not yet a cure for HIV, an antiretroviral treatment can help control the virus, according to the UK-based charity Avert.) Depending on your lifestyle, using barrier protection during sexual intercourse, such as male or female condoms, may be the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy or STI.
Also, STIs can affect most any sexually active person, regardless of orientation. "Women who have sex with women are still at risk for STI," says Dr. Millheiser. Sharing toys can transmit things like chlamydia and HPV, so it's best to use separate toys or wash them thoroughly before switching to a different partner.
Whatever your concern, it's so important to feel empowered to discuss anything with your doctor. Don't be afraid to ask questions, get clarifications, and make sure you have the best possible understanding of your health.