Your annual well woman exams are one of the most important visits to the doctor you will make. It is your opportunity to have your doctor see you as a whole person and to ensure that you are on the right track towards health and well being. To get the most of this visit, it is important to come prepared with questions and to be proactive about your health maintenance. Here are the five most important questions that you should consider asking your primary care provider at your next annual:
1) Given my age, what screening tests are appropriate?
There are many regular screening exams that women of all ages should be getting. What tests are recommended depends on your age and your unique health history. These exams can help detect early pre-cancerous changes to tissue as with a pap smear, cancers in their earliest stages as in mammograms and colonoscopies, or help you determine what your risk of developing osteoporosis is as in a Dexa scan.
Make sure to check in with your doctor about this to be sure you are getting all of your recommended screening tests.
2) How is my blood pressure?
By the time a woman reaches menopause, her cardiovascular disease risk actually surpasses that of her male counterparts. And chronically elevated blood pressure is a serious condition that may potentially lead to stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and kidney failure. It is important to monitor your blood pressure regularly and note any changes you see over time. If your blood pressure is only mildly elevated and your doctor does not feel that medication is warranted, check in with your naturopathic doctor or nutritionist to see what you can do with your diet and lifestyle to promote healthy circulation.
3) Am I at a healthy weight?
With the juxtaposition between our fast-food culture and Hollywood ethos, it can be challenging to determine what a healthy weight actually is. Asking your primary care provider directly will help initiate a conversation about what an ideal weight for your particular body type is. Having a healthy body mass index (BMI – the measurement used to determine obesity) can help decrease your risk for many diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Ask for specific weight loss (or weight gain) recommendations if your weight falls outside of the recommended range.
4) Are all of my current medications still necessary and am I taking the correct dose?
We are dynamic creatures and over time as we age, change our habits, switch providers, we may find that not all of our medications are still medically necessary. Make sure to fully review ALL of your prescribed medications (with dosages), even if your primary care provider was not the prescribing physician. They may recommend dose changes or medication changes based on your entire picture. It is often helpful to bring your prescription bottles in with you. Make sure to mention to your physician if you are taking any over-the-counter medications or herbal and dietary supplements.
5) Should I be tested for any sexually transmitted infections?
Your well woman exam is the perfect time to be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Unfortunately, many STIs are asymptomatic and often people are unaware if they are carrying them. If you are sexually active at all, it is important to regularly be screened for STIs. Make sure to ask for a herpes screening test as well, as 30% of the US female population over age 30 has herpes and it is not generally included on the standard STI screening test.
A few other notes: It is okay, in fact encouraged, to bring a pen and paper with you to your appointment. Make sure to jot down any questions that arise during your appointment if you do not get the opportunity to ask them, as well as any recommendations that your doctor makes. It is okay to talk to your doctor about sensitive issues like urinary incontinence, uterine prolapse or bowel changes. These are important symptoms that often people are shy about discussing. Don’t worry, doctors want to know about your poop.
By Malea MacOdrum fourth year medical student, edited by Dr Elise Schroeder